SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- Sales at South Korean duty-free stores continued to show solid growth, reaching their highest-ever figure in 2018, despite a drop in Chinese travelers following a diplomatic row over the deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system here, industry data showed Monday.
According to the data from the Korea Duty Free Shops Association, local duty-free shops' sales reached US$17.23 billion last year, up 34.6 percent from $12.84 billion a year earlier.
The 2018 reading is the largest ever. Sales at duty free shops grew from $3.03 billion in 2009 to $10.69 billion in 2016, the association said.
The better-than-expected revenues at duty free shops came even though the number of Chinese package tour travelers to South Korea continued to drop after the travel ban by Beijing in 2017 in protest against South Korea's hosting of a U.S. missile defense system, known commonly as THAAD.
Industry watchers said small-scale Chinese vendors who sell their duty-free purchases, such as cosmetic products, to consumers back home, have been driving duty-free sales and replacing package tourists.
Reflecting this trend, the average purchase per foreign shopper was $369 in 2016 but rose sharply to $749 last year.
The data showed that a branch of Lotte Duty Free, South Korea's largest duty-free operator, in Myeongdong in downtown Seoul logged the largest sales by a single shop, reaching 4 trillion won (US$3.56 billion) last year.