2017 duty-free sales set record despite tensions

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2017 duty-free sales set record despite tensions

Sales at Korean duty-free stores reached an all-time high last year, despite a sharp drop in the number of foreign tourists following a diplomatic row between Seoul and Beijing over a U.S. antimissile system, customs data showed Wednesday.

Combined sales to foreigners at 48 local duty-free shops came to 14.5 trillion won ($13.6 billion) in 2017, up 17.9 percent from 12.3 trillion won tallied the previous year, according to Korea Customs Office data.

Sales from stores in city centers rose 24.8 percent on-year, accounting for 76.8 percent of total revenue, the data showed.

The record was set while the number of visitors to Korea sharply dropped following Beijing’s ban on sales of Korea-bound package tours last year in apparent retaliation over the deployment of a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery here.

The number of visitors from the neighboring country in the January-November period declined 49.1 percent from a year earlier, according to separate government data. Chinese visitors accounted for nearly half of the 17 million foreigners who visited South Korea in 2016.

“Despite the plunge in Chinese tourist arrivals, small-scale Chinese traders have been driving duty-free sales growth,” a customs official said.

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