SEOUL, March 27 (Yonhap) -- Sales at South Korean duty-free stores nearly halved in February from a month earlier, hit hard by the spread of the new coronavirus, industry data showed Friday.
Combined sales of local duty-free shops came to 1.1 trillion won (US$910 million) last month, down 45.5 percent from January, according to the data from the Korea Duty Free Shops Association.
The number of visitors plunged 54 percent on-month to 1.75 million in February, with foreigners accounting for 40 percent of the total.
Sales of duty-free shops have taken a big hit from the fast spread of COVID-19 from late January, which has made it impossible for small-scale Chinese vendors, their major customers, to visit South Korea.
Those Chinese vendors sell their duty-free purchases, such as cosmetic products, to consumers back home.
Industry sources voiced concerns that duty-free shops may see their sales shrink further in March, given flight suspensions and travel bans across the globe.
Major industry players, including Lotte Duty Free and Shilla Duty Free, have temporarily shuttered their outlets at Gimpo, Gimhae and Jeju international airports in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.