Consolidation fever in Seoul

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

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The Moodie Report is in Seoul, heartland of South Korea’s lucrative – and fast-changing – travel retail industry.

I’ve been coming here regularly since the early 1990s and it’s been fascinating to watch the evolution of the business – both on-airport and downtown – into one of the best in the world.

Back then, Gimpo (then called Kimpo) Airport was the only international gateway, and it was synonymous with one of the worst duty free offers on the planet, with leading liquor brands often mysteriously out of stock and obscure labels miraculously to the fore.

All that changed with the opening of the privately run Incheon International Airport in 2001, now ranked as the world’s best in several high-profile awards, notably ACI’s ASQ rankings. 

The past few years have also seen Korean Air emerge as the most powerful inflight retailer on the planet, while the country’s leading downtown duty free retailers – notably Lotte, The Shilla, Dongwha and Paradise – have become synonymous with high-class, high-end travel retailing.

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My visit this year coincides with real drama in the market – the most intense consolidation play that there has been in the industry’s history here.

Lotte Duty Free is set to acquire AK Duty Free; while The Shilla Duty Free is poised to snap up Busan-based Paradise Duty Free.

But first both have to gain tricky regulatory approval, including in Lotte’s case, that of the Fair Trade Commission.

I’m here to separate the fact from the fiction on what is happening with both these deals. Watch this space.

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