[Letters] Closure of duty-free shops at airport not the answer

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[Letters] Closure of duty-free shops at airport not the answer

The duty-free shop of the Korea Tourism Organization is in danger of closing in the Incheon International Airport according to the improvement policy announced in 2008. If new contract bidding is officially announced as the operation contract is to expire in February 2013, the KTO duty-free shop will be inevitably pushed out of the airport.

The Korea Tourism Organization has been operating a duty-free shop at the international airport since 1962, reinvesting all profits in the promotion of domestic tourism. It did not suffer deficit because of slack management or bureaucracy. The prime purpose of Korea Tourism Organization’s duty-free shop operation is to nurture Korean brands. Visitors to Paris want to stop by at Cartier, and visitors to London like to shop at Burberry.

Tourists have the cultural urge to purchase quality products from the places they visit. Korean products, especially made by small- and medium-sized businesses, are recognized for the excellent quality, but Korea still does not have high-end brand power. As a gateway for foreign travelers, the international airport must be an important stage and distribution channel to present outstanding Korean products and local specialties. It is a role that only the Korea Tourism Organization can play as a public corporation with decades of experience in duty-free business operation.

Moreover, the KTO duty-free shops can produce a synergy effect by integrating the business with tourism marketing of the organization. For example, we can survey meaningful shopping trends of rapidly increasing Chinese tourists, such as their preference in cosmetic products. Combining the sales information with the tourism marketing know-how and overseas market data, the Korea Tourism Organization will be able to create more attractive tourism products. The authorities may consider the issue of attracting foreign travelers too lightly if they want to ignore this mechanism and kick out the KTO duty-free shop.

Compared to 2008, 42.1 percent more foreign tourists have visited Korea, the largest growth in tourism in the world. At this juncture, filling the airport duty-free shop with foreign luxury goods and compromising tourism marketing capacity can hardly bring an enhancement in competitiveness.

by Lee Charm CEO of the Korea Tourism Organization
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