Duty free and travel retail is a global industry which specializes in selling products to international travelers. Duty free store sales are tax-free and exempt from excise duties, on the condition that goods are only sold to travelers who will transport them out of the country. The industry is commonly seen in airports, however, duty free and travel retail is also available at border shops, onboard cruises and ferries in international waters, and onboard aircrafts during international flights. In some areas, such as non-EU Europe, Australasia, the Middle East, and Latin America, travelers have the option of purchasing duty free goods upon arrival. This trend has become a fundamental source of income for airports. Moreover, duty free and travel retail generates necessary revenues for the travel, tourism, aviation and maritime industries.
State of duty free shops and travel retail during COVID-19
In 2020, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, worldwide sales revenues generated from duty free and travel retail took a nosedive, declining almost by half compared to the previous year. This was a direct result of the reduction in international travel and air passenger traffic throughout 2020, when many countries were forced to close their borders and impose travel restrictions. With such drastic changes in the number of people going through airports for international travel, footfall in duty free shops naturally dropped. Between 2017 and 2021, there was a decline of five percentage points in the share of airport visitors who also visited a duty free shop. In 2020, on average, per passenger spending in duty free shops varied between 145 U.S. dollars in Europe to 186 U.S. dollars in Asia-Pacific. While in 2020, the ratio of those who entered a duty free shop to those who made a purchase was low, in 2021, the conversion rate pick up again and was reported to reach the level observed in 2019.
The duty free market and retail sales of airports
Travel retail is a varied market with many global players, but the largest companies are generally based in Asia. In 2020, based on revenue, China Duty Free Group was the leading travel retailer worldwide, with revenues amounting to 6.6 billion euros. Lotte Duty Free and The Shilla Duty Free, both from South Korea, came in second and third place with revenues exceeding four billion euros. With the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, duty free incomes and retail sales generated by the world's leading airports suffered significantly. In Singapore's Changi Airport, concession sales declined to 280 million Singapore dollars from the previous year's 2.6 billion U.S. dollars, for instance. For most of the pandemic, travelling into Singapore had remained limited to citizens and residents. London's Heathrow Airport experienced a similar downturn in its retail sales. Compared to 2019, revenue from retail concessions declined by around 70 percent in 2020.
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