Land of the morning (afternoon and night) turmoil

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
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The magnificent Autumnal view of Mount Namsan from The Moodie Davitt Report’s interim Seoul bureau

Land of the Morning Calm? Never has the popular epithet for South Korea seemed less appropriate for the country’s booming yet tumultuous duty free industry

I’m back at a long-time Moodie Davitt Report interim bureau, the fabulous Grand Hyatt Hotel in Seoul. I have many fond memories of this place, not least as we held The Trinity Forum 2012 here, one of our best ever.

After my dash from Busan in the south to Shanghai, China, I flew back here on Tuesday to spend a few days talking to retailers and airport executives. Over the next few weeks I’ll bring you some of their stories. They range from the compelling excellence of Shinsegae Duty Free in Busan and Seoul to the ‘dare to be different’ approach of Doota Duty Free here in the capital. Today I was wowed by Shilla IPark duty free, impressed by the vision and the edge that underpins Doota, and taken by the understated elegance of Galleria Duty Free 63.

Over the next couple of days I’ll visit the Lotte Duty Free flagship store, Shinsegae’s new Seoul operation, Shilla’s main store, and of course Incheon International Airport. I’ve seen so much retail in the past few days that it would seem easy for one store to blur into another. But here’s the thing, they don’t. One of the most fascinating elements of the desperately competitive retail landscape here is how the various players are trying to differentiate themselves. They have little choice. Competition is so tough, the regulators so fierce, the battle for group and FIT tourists so intense, the tour commission rates so high, that a Korean duty free equivalent of the Charles Darwin-inspired ‘Survival of the fittest’ adage should surely be coined.

There’s no calm here, for sure. But boy is there plenty of content.

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(Above and below) Remember the name (and the polar bear). This is Seowon ‘AP’ Park, Chief Creative Officer and Chief Strategy Officer at Doota Duty Free, the self-styled ‘disruptor’ of Korean duty free. I like Doota’s daring, its determination to be different, and its focus on a holistic touristic experience, not just revenue grabbing. Note too its excellent balance of FIT v group tourists, roughly 50/50. That mix will position Doota well as it seeks to secure the support of more big-name brands.

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(Above and below) Seoul’s famous golden Galleria 63 building now houses an elegant and increasingly successful duty free store. Sales are now running at around US$1 million a day; not bad for a start-up in such a competitive market.

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(Above) All signs point to branded business at the hugely impressive (and huge) Shilla iPark store. (Below) Korean skincare brands are generating big daily sales at the vast complex, dwarfing those of many international rivals.

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