The Moodie Davitt China Travel Retail Report September 2023

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China. Welcome to the latest issue of The Moodie Davitt China Travel Report, a publication that appears amid a very different climate for Chinese outbound travel from earlier editions.

As Beijing has progressively released the handbrake on previous, COVID-driven international travel constraints through 2023, countries around Asia in particular have been queueing up to put out welcome signs.

In mid-September, the Thailand government gave the green light for citizens from China to travel freely to the country without visas from 25 September until 29 February next year. The Thai authorities are ensuring maximum visibility for the red carpet they are rolling out, knowing that images will go viral in China and boost the ‘quick win’ tourism policy that has been adopted to stimulate a sector ravaged by the pandemic since 2020.

Amid extraordinary scenes on 24 September, Chinese tourists landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok were personally welcomed by Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. Dancers in traditional Thai costumes and puppeteers performed for the passengers who had just landed from Shanghai, many of whom stopped to take selfies with Srettha.

In the Republic of Korea – belatedly added to the list of approved group tour destinations in August compared to March for Thailand – travel retail powerhouses such as Lotte Duty Free and The Shilla Duty Free have slipped quickly into overdrive to court the initial return of Chinese visitors, a flow they hope will turn into a torrent in 2024.

On 1 September Lotte Duty Free welcomed 350 Chinese tourists on a group tour to Jeju via the Blue Dream Star cruise ship. Incredibly, they were the first Chinese group cruise visitors to land on the southern island for more than six years, a hiatus caused not only by the pandemic but the bitter THAAD anti-missile system row between the Republic and China that preceded it.

In a late September article for The Moodie Davitt Report, The Shilla Duty Free said Jeju was “buzzing again”. In pre-crisis 2019, downtown Jeju’s duty free shops generated sales of approximately KRW2.4 trillion (US$1.8 billion), representing a significant share of the global duty free market.

China Duty Free Group Cruise Services (CDFCS) has its sight set on becoming a major onboard retail force in Asia’s burgeoning cruise line sector. Its offer on Adora Magic City, the first China-made large cruise ship, will lay down a marker for the future.

Now the comeback is underway. Foreign tourist visits (mainly Chinese and Japanese) to Jeju have surged with total volumes expected to reach 670,000 this year – approximately 55% of the 2019 figure. By 2024, a full recovery is expected to over 1.4 million visitors, while in 2025, the total is anticipated to exceed the previous 2016 peak.

In this issue we explore how companies such as DFS Group, China Duty Free Group and Wangfujing Duty Free (in Hainan) are driving recovery via a combination of store openings (on land and at sea) and vibrant promotional campaigns. We also examine the ‘normalisation’ of duty free retailing in South Korea and Hainan – the two travel retail hotbeds of the pandemic – as respective crackdowns on large-scale daigou trading reshape the sector landscape.

Interviewed for the edition, DFS China President Nancy Liu talks about the ambition that underpins the DFS Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport Boutiques offer in Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport Terminal 3A

China Duty Free Group, confirmed by our annual rankings as the world’s number one travel retailer, has made plenty of waves in recent years. Now it’s riding them via its burgeoning specialist onboard retail operation China Duty Free Group Cruise Services (CDFCS). In an exclusive interview, we discover more about the shopping offer onboard Adora Magic City, which makes its maiden sailing in January.

Our cover story examines DFS Group’s latest exhilarating Annual Beauty Campaign launched in riveting style in Macau. And DFS is also the subject of our on location report from Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport as the luxury travel retailer makes its debut in a Mainland China domestic terminal.

The China Travel Report, published bilingually, now appears quarterly (next issue December) as we continue to step up our coverage of the China travel shopping sector both at home and abroad. ✈

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