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Thailand's King Power cements duty-free reign at more airports

Wins at Phuket and other hubs follow what critics call opaque selection

A King Power duty-free shop at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. (Photo by Shinya Sawai)

BANGKOK -- Thai travel retailer King Power International Group has secured exclusive rights to operate duty-free stores at three more of the country's airports for another decade, continuing its monopoly in the sector even as a trade body voiced dissatisfaction with the selection process.

King Power has won the bidding for duty-free spaces at Phuket, Chiang Mai and Hat Yai airports, said state-owned Airports of Thailand on Monday.

The announcement came a little over a week after the airport operator picked King Power as duty-free retailer at Suvarnabhumi, the country's main international airport serving Bangkok. The contracts will last until March 2031

The auctions had been watched to see whether Thailand would allow greater competition in its $2.1 billion duty-free retail sector.

King Power topped two international joint bids for the regional airports contract -- one by Bangkok Airways and South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group, the other by Royal Orchid Hotel (Thailand) and Switzerland-based Dufry, the world's largest duty-free shop operator.

King Power submitted the best proposal, the airport operator said, without elaborating on details or describing its scoring method. This drew criticism from the Thai Retailers Association and other business groups that suspect a cozy relationship between Airports of Thailand and King Power.

King Power has in effect been the sole duty-free store provider at major airports in Thailand, a Southeast Asian tourism destination that attracts more than 38 million visitors a year. The strong ties the company's founder had with the Thai royal family and lawmakers were said by some to have granted it an advantage.

Rivals and industry watchers were watching to see whether the death of King Power's founder, U.K. soccer club Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, in a helicopter accident last October would lead to the end of the company's duty-free monopoly.

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