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Duty-free sales hit record high in 2019

All News 09:59 February 04, 2020

By Kim Han-joo

SEOUL, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) -- Sales at South Korean duty-free stores hit a new annual high of over 24 trillion won last year, industry data showed Tuesday, mainly on the back of more foreign customers, mainly Chinese visitors.

The combined sales of local duty-free shops reached 24.86 trillion won (US$20.87 billion) in 2019, up 31.1 percent from a previous record of 18.96 trillion won a year earlier, according to the data from the Korea Duty Free Shops Association.

Sales at the local duty-free shops witnessed a slight fall in 2017 following a diplomatic row with China over the deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system here. Sales, however, swung to an upturn in 2018.

The waiting line in front of a Lotte Duty Free shop in central Seoul is empty on Jan. 29, 2020, amid escalating fears over the fast-spreading new coronavirus. The shop's main customers are Chinese tourists, and China banned domestic and overseas group tours two days earlier to prevent the spread of the respiratory virus. (Yonhap)

Industry watchers said small-scale Chinese vendors who sell their duty-free purchases, such as cosmetic products, to consumers back home, have been driving duty-free sales and replacing package tourists.

The data showed that the number of foreign visitors came to over 20 million last year, up from 18 million a year earlier.

Despite the upbeat performance, the new coronavirus outbreak could affect consumer confidence.

Major players, including Lotte Duty Free and Shilla Duty Free, temporarily closed outlets over the weekend, and announced that they will shorten business hours.

Duty-free stores also logged decreased sales at their downtown outlets, with Lotte Duty Free reporting around a 30-percent on-year decrease in sales over the Saturday-Sunday.

So far, the country has reported a total of 15 cases.


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