Returning to the world’s biggest duty free market

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

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I’m back in South Korea, the land of the morning calm, though that description seldom applies to the country’s duty free industry, which always seems to be moving at frenetic pace.

The harsh Korean winter is drawing to a close though it’s still a brisk 2 degrees here in Seoul. It’s a beautiful view over the capital from my 25th floor room at the Grand Hyatt. Down below me  the figure skaters are gliding around the ice rink, surrounded by trees beautifully lit up with what looks from this height like golden tinsel.

Welcome to Korea

I have many fond memories here. This hotel was the site of the 2012 Trinity Forum, one of the best industry events I ever attended, largely due to the incredible hospitality and organisational abilities of our hosts Incheon International Airport Corporation.

Incheon was, of course, my arrival point today, and the experience was every bit as efficient as you’d expect from the airport consistently rated the best in the world. Immigration was fast and my suitcase was already on the belt as I entered the Arrivals hall, just five minutes off the plane.

Incheon is very proud of its shopping reputation and there are signs everywhere proclaiming the accolade recently bestowed on its Airstar retail brand by Business Traveller, naming it world’s best airport duty free (it’s also, just ahead of Dubai Duty Free, the world’s biggest).

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In inflight duty free terms, the same status applies to Korean Air. I took the bus from the airport to the city, picking up a copy of the March edition of Sky Shop, the airline’s duty free shopping guide (complete, I was delighted to note, with a reference to The Moodie Report on the front cover). Every seat on every bus to the capital has a copy of the publication, a brilliant example of reaching out to the traveller before and after the journey to remind them of the duty free offer.

And what an offer it is – a 256-page issue packed with the world’s great brands and some of Korea’s finest. It’s an impressive publishing feat to produce such a high quality, multi-lingual publication each month, and underlines why Korean Air is the world’s number one inflight retailer by some distance with sales of around US$200 million last year.

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Yes Korea is some duty free market alright. Over the next two days I’ll be talking to a number of the key players about their aspirations both here and abroad. Let no-one doubt how much the big two, Lotte and Shilla, crave global expansion.

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