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DFS opens high-end duty-free stores at Changi Airport, selling wine, whiskey, cigars

Airport travelers shuffling between security checks and their boarding gate often grab duty-free perfume or a cut-price bottle of spirits before an international flight.

But that's far from the reality of some passengers at Singapore's Changi Airport, who in some cases shell out more than $100,000 for a bottle of their favorite tipple before hopping onto a flight.

High-end duty-free retailer DFS opened its new concept stores - complete with whiskey, wine, cigar and tobacco rooms, bartenders, complementary tastings and even virtual reality installations – in Changi's Terminals 2 and 3 with precisely these customers in mind.

"We drew inspiration from stylish restaurants and bars around the world when we created this space," Wilcy Wong, DFS's managing director for Singapore and Indonesia, told CNBC.

She said there would be no hard sell when it came to the pricey products.

"These days a lot of the customers are very knowledgeable themselves, so to be able to engage them and teach them something new is important," Wong said.

Not that the hard sell would be necessary; as well as knowledgeable, many customers are big spenders.

DFS Wine & Spirits store at Singapore's Changi Airport
DFS Wine & Spirits store at Singapore's Changi Airport

DFS staff recounted that one traveler recently bought a bottle of Glenfiddich 50-year-old single malt whisky priced at 43,910 Singapore dollars ($31,611) on a whim after passing the store. And that paled in comparison to the most expensive bottle ever sold at Changi, for S$250,000 ($180,000).

Hong Kong-based DFS Group, which is majority owned by LVMH, has outlets at 17 major international airports, mostly in Asia, but has also staked flags in New York and San Francisco.

The global travel retail market is estimated to grow to $85 billion by 2020, according to the Fung Business Intelligence Center, and Asia-Pacific is the largest single sector of the market, accounting for 39 percent, followed by Europe at 32 percent.

This forecast growth is in contrast to the fall in retail mall traffic, particularly in the U.S., which has slumped as consumer spending lags and online shopping grows in popularity.

Singapore's Changi Airport, repeatedly ranked the best in the world by the influential Skytrax annual survey, hosts 55 million passengers a year, all of whom are classified as traveling internationally because Singapore is a city-state, and thus are free to buy duty-free items.

The concept has been praised by the retail andtravel industry, winning "Best Shopping Experience" this year by Singapore's Tourism Board, and Singapore's Retailers Associations "Best Retail Concept of the Year".