Shopping district Myeong-dong regains fame as tourist destination

Bomi Yoon

Lotte Duty Free’s main store in Myeong-dong, downtown Seoul, is crowded with visitors, June 13. Yonhap

By Ko Dong-hwan

Myeong-dong is rebounding back to its former glory as international visitors to central Seoul return and local businesses attempt to maximize sales. The scenes contrast to those of the pandemic years when the district saw shops closing down and local commerce collapsing due to a steep decline in visitors to Myeong-dong.

With the pandemic dissipating and quarantine measures and social-distancing rules lifted nationwide in April 2022, tourist numbers in Korea picked up, according to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). The state-run company said the country registered over 5.4 million in the first half of this year, about 53 percent of the same period in 2019, a year before the entire world started battling with the highly infectious disease.

The rising popularity translated to busier scenes in Myeong-dong. Sales in the district during the first half of this year increased by 27 percent from the same period last year, according to KTO.

Declining vacancy rates in the district also demonstrate the district’s booming industry. During the second quarter of this year, the vacancy rate stood at 14.3 percent, a 38.2 percent drop from the same period last year, according to local real estate observers. That 2022 period saw the district’s highest vacancy rate since the breakout of COVID-19.

Olive Young Myeongdong Town in Myeong-dong, Seoul, the biggest of the beauty brand’s stores, opened last week to specifically target foreign customers. Yonhap

Changes being made around Myeong-dong’s landscape are another indicator of the district regaining its former vibrancy. Mainly consisting of restaurants, bars, street vendors and shops for fashion, cosmetic and beauty products, many stores are getting facelifts or seeing renovations next door. It’s a sign Myeong-dong is no longer being avoided by companies for low marketability but instead attracting new investment.

The most outstanding retail sector on the rise is the cosmetics that had crowded Myeong-dong streets before the pandemic. Olive Young, a beauty product seller run by CJ Group, last week opened its biggest ever shop there. It is a renewed establishment dedicated to foreign tourists after the old store’s customer base was 90 percent customers from outside the country.

The company carried out the expansion based on the fact that the district’s sales to foreigner shoppers from January to October this year saw a ninefold jump compared to that from the last year. Formerly, customers were mostly from China, but now shoppers from Southeast Asia, Japan and English-speaking countries are visiting too.

Able C&C, fronted by its flagship cosmetic brand Missha, saw the net profit of its Myeong-dong Megastore during the first half of this year quadruple from the same period last year. The store completed renovations last September and saw its daily sales increase by 40 percent from the previous month.

Boosted by those records, the company said it plans to open its third store in Myeong-dong.

Nature Republic facelifted its Myeongdong World store last August, while Lotte Duty Free launched Lotte Duty Free Showroom, or LDF House, in the district last month.

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