Airports turn to wining, dining, shopping destinations

If you've viewed airports as just places to board and disembark airplanes, you may want to do more from now. International airports are transforming into great places to shop and dine.

Visiting the duty-free sections has become one of the most-anticipated parts of traveling to Korea. About 45 million visitors spent about 2.1 trillion won (S$2.5 billion) at the Incheon International Airport last year, the highest amount in the world.

From the world's first Louis Vuitton store to global luxury brands such as Prada, Bottega Veneta, Gucci and Omega, to Korea's iconic beauty goods such as AmorePacific, Etude House and Missha, as well as Korean snacks and electronic goods, pretty much everything you can expect in a Seoul shopping centre can be found in the 1.19 square kilometers that spans from the passenger terminal to the concourse.

"I love shopping at Incheon airport duty-free stores. There are so many items to choose from and a lot of discount opportunities ― sometimes you can end up paying 60-70 per cent of the original price," said Kim Hyun-soo, a frequent traveler and user of Incheon airport.

Duty-free stores also hold a variety of events to attract winter vacationers.

Simply downloading duty-free store applications or signing up for a membership grants instant discounts or vouchers for souvenirs, which makes shopping even more appealing. Sometimes, you can just pop in and get some unexpected surprises.

Shinsegae DF, which has recently opened an outlet there, targets not only luxury shoppers but also tech-savvy men, with action camera brand GoCamera.

Also from Dec. 18 through Jan. 17, those who purchase items with a MasterCard can participate in a raffle event giving out a four-day travel package including a three-night hotel stay, a plane ticket and tickets for two to a Champions League football game.

Those who purchase items totaling over $250 through Dec. 30 will be given souvenirs and coupons.

Shilla Duty Free operates around-the-clock stores for late-night passengers and early birds.

Lotte Duty Free gives all perfumes and cosmetics purchasers 10,000 won prepaid cards. Those who spend more than $200 on electronics, fashion goods and accessories will be given a 50,000 won voucher. The company also gives a Swarovski necklace to Korean shoppers who spend more than $500 in a single day.

For more information about Incheon International Airport's duty-free section, visit

Incheon Airport has also become a hot spot for dining.

Forget about the dodgy, cold food that was once served for rip-off prices at major airports. From South Korean retail giants such as CJ and Ourhome to Starbucks and SPC, Korea's top restaurateurs are vying to imprint their brands on global citizens leaving Korea.

CJ Foodville, the restaurant-operating unit of CJ Group, runs a total of 24 outlets in the airport after realizing that they were a good public relations opportunity for foreigners. They include Korean casual restaurants Bibigo, Cheil Jemyeonso and Seasons' Table, as well as cafes A Twosome Place, Twosome+, Cold Stone Creamery and others.

"The company has more than 240 outlets in 10 countries. And we have a vision that visitors who have experienced our food at Incheon airport will enjoy Korean food back home once or twice a month," said Kwon Hyuk-chan, head of the concession business at the company.

Ourhome operates 13 diners, including Burger Hunter, Taco Bell and Chimaek Hunter at the "Food Empire Gourmet Dining & Kitchen" in the duty-free zone. The company also opened Nimat, a Korean-Middle East diner serving Halal-accredited meals, targeting Muslim travelers.

"We thought it would be a great idea to let everyone, including Muslims who have limited choices in ingredients due to halal rules, to experience Korean food," an Ourhome spokesman said.