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Duty-free shops see customers return as tourism normalizes

Tourists are seen walking through the duty-free zone at Incheon International Airport on Sunday. (Yonhap)
Tourists are seen walking through the duty-free zone at Incheon International Airport on Sunday. (Yonhap)

With the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic’s endemic phase, South Korea’s duty-free shops are starting to see their long-awaited business recovery with a growing number of group tours, industry sources said Tuesday.

According to a Lotte Duty Free official, some 150 tourists from Malaysia shopped at the Myeongdong branch for an hour on Tuesday before returning to their country.

“It’s the first time in two years since COVID-19 started that a group of over 100 tourists visited our stores. Two other groups, from the Philippines and Thailand, are scheduled to visit this month as well,” the official said.

Some 170 Thai tourists flew in on Monday to Jeju Island and shopped at Lotte and Shilla Duty Free shops. They arrived on the island through visa-free entry, the official added. Starting from June 1, Jeju and Yangyang International Airports have resumed the visa-waiver program that has been suspended for over two years due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Shinsegae Duty Free said approximately 30 tourists from Vietnam visited its Myeongdong branch on May 27.

Amid growing expectations for a revitalization of the group tour business, which accounts for 80 percent of total duty-free sales, stores are rushing to make renovations.

Lotte Duty Free Myeongdong recently installed three additional elevators exclusively for duty-free customers. Shinsegae Duty Free Myeongdong has completed renovation work of stores that sell electronic appliances and food products.

“Since group tours in Japan and China are still facing restrictions, international tourists -- especially Southeast Asians -- are coming to Korea, which has started to push for pre-pandemic recovery with reduced quarantine measures,” said the official from Lotte Duty Free.

From Wednesday, the South Korean government will lift a seven-day quarantine mandate for unvaccinated arrivals from overseas. It will also normalize the number of international flights and scrap the curfew for late night and early morning flights at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul.

By Byun Hye-jin (hyejin2@heraldcorp.com)
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