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Korean duty-free store sales reach record high in December

Sales to foreigners at South Korean duty-free stores reached a record high in December, industry data shows.

But that comes despite a sharp drop in the number of tourists, following a diplomatic spat between Seoul and Beijing over a US anti-missile system.

Sales to foreigners at local duty-free shops came to US$939 million last month, up 28 per cent from a year earlier, according to data compiled by the Korea Duty Free Shops Association. The figure is up 0.1 per cent from the previous high of $983 million, set in November.

However the number of foreign visitors to local duty-free shops plunged 11.3 per cent on-year to 1.42 million last month, mainly due to Beijing’s ban on selling Korea-bound package tours in apparent retaliation over the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in South Korea.

The number of Chinese nationals who visited South Korea last year stood at 4.16 million, down 48.3 per cent from the 8 million of the previous year, according to separate government data. Chinese nationals accounted for nearly half of the 17 million foreigners who visited South Korea in 2016.

After months of dispute, the two countries agreed in October to normalise their bilateral relations, although Chinese tourists are yet to come back in volumes.

Industry watchers say the latest increase in duty-free sales is attributable to small-scale Chinese traders.

According to customs data, sales at South Korean duty-free stores reached a historic high of 14.5 trillion won last year, up 17.9 per cent from the previous year.

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