The first duty-free shop in the world was opened at Shannon Airport by Dr Brendan O’Regan in 1947 to serve transatlantic airline passengers travelling between North America and Europe. Flights would stop at Shannon for refuelling and passengers had time to kill before continuing on their journey.
The argument put forward by Dr O’Regan and his team was that having passed passport control, the passenger had left the country and therefore the duties or taxes of that country became invalid. So everything bought after passport control should be considered duty-free. The idea received a go-ahead in Ireland and the shop became an instant success.
Indeed, the concept of a duty-free shop is not that new. Diplomats living in embassies, the military and men at sea had enjoyed duty-free allowances for years before the Shannon shop opened its doors. In actual fact liquor, had been available to British seamen for onboard consumption since the 1500s.
In 19th-century ships, passengers could purchase supplies without duty. They could enter the countries they were visiting or returning to without paying import duties on items they had bought during their voyage. Initially, these items included liquor and tobacco. With time perfumes started selling on board ships. Most probably so that the people on these crowded vessels smelt better.
In 1944, passengers on international flights also enjoyed this benefit. But Dr O’Regan brought the concept of the duty-free shop into the airport itself. In 1954, international agreements on allowances were agreed upon in the New York Convention on International Travel.
At this time, customs fought against the concept of ground shops. They did not like the idea that these shops would sell duty-free items to travellers. Initially, travellers placed orders from the landside (before passport control). They would then receive their purchased goods in sealed bags at the gate as they boarded.
In 1959 Customs and Excise in the UK finally allowed duty-free shops airside, initially just for liquor sales. It was not until 1964 that tobacco, perfume and other gifts also started selling past passport control.
Passengers on board Kenya Airways enjoy this duty-free shopping benefit. Kenya airways clearly show the saving against the price of the product. They show the onboard duty-free price followed by the local price and the saving made by buying on board.
Kenya Airways uses the 5-time International Retailer of the Year award winner, Tourvest Duty-Free, who have specialised merchants to source the goods sold on board. Tourvest’s merchants provide Kenya Airways with the latest trends from the top international brands for its passengers. They negotiate the best prices and many items are travel-exclusive which means they are not available in local stores.
This range of products includes ladies’ and men’s fragrances, precious and costume jewellery, top branded watches and many more. All duty-free products sold on board carry a twelve-month guarantee.
From its humble beginnings in the late 40s, the duty-free shop concept has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry providing quality niche products at highly competitive prices and all this, courtesy of an Irishman with a big heart. May his soul rest in peace.