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S. Korean retailers boosted by resurgence of Chinese travelers

All Headlines 10:18 April 14, 2016

SEOUL, April 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korean retailers saw a sharp surge in sales from Chinese travelers who have flocked back this year to popular shopping districts here, fully recovering from last year's slump stemming from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), industry officials said Thursday.

Local department stores and duty-free shops had sluggish business last year after the MERS outbreak in May dropped the number of foreign travelers, especially from China. Sales have gradually recovered since late 2015, and they gained full steam this year thanks to a series of large-scale incentive tours and individual travelers.

Sales from Chinese nationals at department stores, duty-free stores and supermarket chains have jumped at least 50 percent in the first quarter, according to industry data, driving growth amid subdued spending by domestic consumers and cut-throat competition with online market places.

Lotte Department Store said its sales in the first three months jumped nearly 50 percent from a year ago, with a surge in visitors to the downtown outlet as well as to Lotte World Tower in the affluent southern region.

"As revenue from Chinese customers jumped nearly 50 percent from the first quarter of 2015, before the MERS outbreak, it can actually be considered record-high sales," an official at Lotte Department Store said.

Lotte Duty Free, the nation's No. 1 duty-free operator, posted a 53 percent sales surge during the period, with revenue from group tours accounting for 70 percent it said.

It has received a series of large-scale incentive tours from China, including McDonald's Chinese branch and Beijing Hyundai Motor, expecting some 40,000 foreign travelers by June.

A continuous stream of travelers are expected in the coming months as Lotte plans to hold a K-pop concert in Jamsil Stadium from Friday to Sunday, which is expected to draw 15,000 Chinese visitors. The venue is close to its Lotte World Tower, a 123-story skyscraper whose construction is slated for completion later this year.

On top of their shopping lists are Korean cosmetic and fashion items as well as Korean food, such as ramyeon, snacks and dried seaweed, they said.

At Lotte Department Store, Gentle Monster sunglasses were the best-selling item among Chinese clients in the first quarter. The Korean brand has enjoyed popularity after actress Jun Ji-hyun wore them in the 2014 hit drama, "My Love from Stars."

Sulhwasoo, a high-end cosmetic brand by AmorePacific Co., and Line Friends, a character store operated by No. 1 portal Naver, were also well received by Chinese, it said.

ejkim@yna.co.kr
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