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MERS cause duty-free sales to foreigners to decline in 2015: data

All News 15:57 January 20, 2016

SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- The outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in South Korea last year caused duty-free purchases made by foreigners to decline, despite overall sales going up thanks to solid rise in outbound travelers, data showed Wednesday.

Sales to foreigners inched down 0.6 percent on-year to US$5.41 billion, the Korea Duty Free Association (KDFA) said.

"The MERS outbreak hurt shopping by foreign travelers," it said, adding that last year marked the first time duty-free sales by foreign travelers have retreated since 2010, when the association first compiled the data.

After the first MERS case was confirmed on May 20, the respiratory disease that originated from the Middle East spread across the country resulting in 38 deaths and 187 people contracting the virus. The outbreak also scared off foreign tourists over the critical summer months. Seoul officially declared an end to MERS in December, even though no new case was reported since July 4.

The KDFA, however, said that while sales to foreigners were down, purchases made by South Korean consumers jumped 11.2 percent on-year to $2.72 billion.

This increase caused combined sales at duty-free stores nationwide to reach around $8.14 billion in 2015, up 3.03 percent from a year ago.

"Although sales by foreigners slightly decreased, total sales rose on the back of increasing number of domestic consumers," the association said.

The latest data then showed that the total number of duty-free store visitors jumped 18.5 percent to 40.6 million in 2015.

The number of foreign travelers to South Korea slipped 6.8 percent on-year to 13.23 million in 2015, the first minus growth in 12 years, the Korea Tourism Organization said.

In contrast, more Koreans traveled abroad to take advantage of the cheaper airfares offered by low-cost carriers and extended holidays. The number of outbound travelers rose 20.1 percent to 19.31 million last year.

ejkim@yna.co.kr

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