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 as duty free. The idea was given a go ahead in Ireland and the shop was 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 on board consumption since the 1500s.

In the 19th century ships, passengers were also allowed to purchase supplies without duty and were able to enter the countries they were visiting or returning to without paying import duties on items they had bought during their voyage. Initially, the main items were liquor and tobacco but later perfumes started to be sold on board ships most probably so that the people on these crowded vessels smelt better.

In 1944, this right was extended to passengers on international flights, but it was Dr. O’Regan who brought the concept of the duty free shop into the airport itself. In 1954, international agreements on allowances were agreed in the New York convention on International Travel.

At this time, customs were still against the concept of ground shops being allowed to sell duty free to travellers and initially orders had to be taken landside (before passport control) and then the goods would be delivered in sealed bags to passengers 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 could also be sold after passport control.

Passengers on board Kenya Airways enjoy this duty free shopping benefit. The saving is clearly shown against the price of the product. The on board duty free price is shown followed by the local price and the saving to be 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 12 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.