Gimpo: the international airport that refused to die ….
Seoul Incheon is world famous for being one of the world’s most competitive and efficiently operated airports. Incheon isn’t the only airport to serve the South Korean capital, however.When Incheon opened for business back in 2001, the older (but more conveniently located) Gimpo was effectively downgraded to a domestic facility, but South Korea’s subsequent economic growth forced Gimpo’s owner Korean Airports Corporation (KAC) to resume limited international flights.Anyone travelling to Seoul via Gimpo rather than Incheon has an immediate advantage. Situated only 16km from the city centre, it takes just a 30-minute subway ride to travel downtown from Gimpo. Yet for passengers arriving at Incheon the journey into town takes three times longer.
Sadly, the main drawback of Gimpo is that it offers just a handful of Asian international destinations (Tokyo Haneda, Kansai, Shanghai Hongqiao and Nagoya) compared to its larger, cross-town rival. Things are changing for the better though. New routes are being added such as Beijing in May this year, and with passenger figures growing 27% to reach 3.16m in 2010, it is safe bet that Gimpo’s international future will grow rather then shrink in years to come.
From a shopping point of view Gimpo is especially interesting because of what KAR did to one of the airport’s old domestic terminals in 2002. Rather than scrap the old facility KAR transformed it into a giant shopping centre. Located between the domestic and international terminals, the SkyCity complex features a cinema, a theme park and a three-floor E-mart department store, which sells men’s, women’s and children’s fashion, groceries, books, toys, stationery and consumer electronics. Twice the length of a football field, the giant store stocks over 40,000 different products.
Open from 10.00 to 24.00 hours each day and with 1,000 parking spaces, the impressive SkyCity is a great place to kill a few hours before catching your flight. It is also worth noting that there is also a food court there with both Asian and Western dining choices. For more details on how to get to E-mart and a detailed floor plan in English, log on to: http://english.shinsegae.com/english/emart/emart_store.asp?STORE_CD=28.Inside Gimpo’s one international terminal two rival Korean duty-free retailers Lotte Duty Free and Shilla Duty Free have recently been awarded new contracts for larger shop spaces. Shilla Duty Free now sells fragrances, cosmetics, fashion and accessories in its 400 square metre store, which is open daily from 06.30 to 20.30 hours.The roll call of blue-chip brands available in this shop is truly impressive. Travellers can take their pick from a selection of high-end fragrances from brands such as Gucci, Kenzo, Lanvin, DKNY, Lolita Lempicka and Marc Jacobs.
Alternatively, choose make up from esteemed names such as Lancôme, Guerlain, Kanebo and Shisheido. Shoppers will also find bags from top brands such as Longchamp, Bally and Dupont, as well as sunglasses from Tom Ford, Escada and Oakley.
One of the more interesting Korean brands sold by Shilla is Kyungheung Amethyst, a company selling attractive amethyst gemstone jewellery in simple, but beautiful designs. To see some of the top-selling lines from this company at the Shilla store (plus up-to-date prices) before you travel, see http://www.shilladfs.com/en/brand/detail.dfs?brandId=1&tgtSiteDivCode=02.
Rival duty-free Lotte Duty Free is the shop to head for if you are after liquor, tobacco, electronics and traditional Korean foods such as the world famous red ginseng. Lotte is also the place for high-end watches from world-class brands such as TAGHeuer, Dolce & Gabbana, Seiko and Montblanc, as well as bags from the likes of Coach and Dunhill.
When it comes to liquor, the Lotte selection is dominated by pricy super-premium blended Scotch whiskies such as Royal Salute, Ballantine’s 30 Year Old and Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Fancy Cognacs from Courvoisier, Rémy Martin, Hennessy and Camus are popular too.
If you want to try something a little different, you will also find excellent Japanese-style sake from high quality brands such as Kizakura and Aioi Unibo, as well as traditional Korean soju. Soju is a clear spirit, made from rice and other grains, which is much stronger than sake, and can be mixed much like Western vodka.
The Lotte shop also has an area dedicated to Korean souvenirs. Popular purchases include nicely carved chopsticks, engraved boxes, dried Korean foodstuffs such as seaweed and pickled vegetables (kimchi), decorated masks, tea glasses and handmade dolls.
For more general information on Lotte Duty Free’s Gimpo outlet in English, see http://en.lottedfs.com/stores/gimpoa/introduction/intro.jsp.
Over in the domestic terminal the range of shops is rather limited and obviously geared towards local tastes. There is a Korean bookshop, for instance, as well as a newsagent, banks and a local supermarket. As for food, Asian cuisine lovers will be in seventh heaven, while coffee addicts can get their fix at Starbuck’s.
Once Incheon was open Gimpo was never meant for a role on the international stage. But thanks to South Korea’s booming economy and Gimpo’s convenient location an international comeback was probably always on the cards. Yes, Gimpo might not be the world star that Incheon is, but its retail pedigree cannot be questioned.
Seoul Gimpo official airport website
See our Tax Free Travel shopping guide to …..
And our arrivals guide to Korean Duty Free Allowances.