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Chinese tour groups boost South Korean duty free market

Retail in Asia Korea Duty Free

Chinese visitor numbers to South Korea in May rose by an encouraging +14.2% year-on-year to 705,844, according to the Korea Tourism Organization.

Chinese visitors are critical to South Korea’s travel retail sector (the world’s largest), representing 47.3% of total arrivals in May.

For the first five months of 2016 Chinese arrivals rose by +13.9% over a strong 2015 base to 3,058,222.

The importance of group tourists to the travel retail channel is underlined by the breakdown of Chinese visitor numbers (see table below) with 2,596,982 group travellers arriving in the country over the first five months, a 85% share.

Accumulative visitor arrivals by gender for first five months. (Source: Korea Tourism Organization)
Accumulative visitor arrivals by gender for first five months. (Source: Korea Tourism Organization)

Others (principally free independent travellers) represented just 438,344 arrivals, a 14.3% share, with business travellers and officials making up the balance. Attracting the FIT market is an increasingly important battleground in the fight between retailers to attract big-name luxury brands.

However, arrivals by ‘others’ fell -8.9% in the first five months, while Chinese group tourist numbers increased by +19.1%. Japanese arrivals dipped -5.1% to 178,735 in May, a 12% share.

The first five months of 2016 saw a +1.9% rise in Japanese visitor numbers to 859,723, a 13.1% share. Korean departures increased by +4.9% in May to 1,656,728; and for the first five months by +13.9% to 8,851,752.

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