Ever Rich to close 1 in 2 stores at Taichung, Kaohsiung airports

Tourism sector expresses concerns six working days before the end of the government’s first COVID-19 relief act which could result in thousands of layoffs starting next month

An Ever Rich Duty Free shop is seen in this undated file photo. (Courtesy of Ever Rich)

TAIPEI (The China Post/ANN) — Ever Rich Duty Free (昇恆昌) will close one in two stores at Taichung and Kaohsiung airports next month amid the global coronavirus outbreak, the company said on Thursday.

The leading retailer of duty-free goods in Taiwan cited a staggering decrease in revenue in the first six months of the year for its decision to close its boutiques, cosmetic shops and general duty-free product outlets at the international airports in central and southern Taiwan.

Ever Rich’s top management reported forfeiting their entire base salary since the beginning of the crisis while more than 500 managers accepted salary reductions as the ripple effects of COVID-19 continue to wreak havoc on bottom lines.

What’s next for the company, however, remains a mystery, six working days before the end of the first batch of measures aimed at alleviating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The countdown has for sure begun for the government’s first relief act — capped at NT$60 billion — which was signed into law Feb. 25 by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and runs until June 30.

Ever Rich Duty Free reportedly spends hundreds of millions on wages per month amid the coronavirus outbreak for its 6,000 staff. The company has refused to lay off staff so far.

According to the first COVID-19 relief act, labor authorities provide a subsidy to workers’ salaries of NT$11,000 per month which could account for 30 percent, on average, of their monthly income.

If the government subsidies are canceled at the end of the month without further info on foreigners’ arrival, the company could have no other option than dismissing an unspecified number of workers, analysts said.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) new plan to support local travel through five subsidies won’t be of any help as travelers won’t go through duty-free shops during their journeys.

Tourism revenue reached NT$405.3 billion in 2018 (US$13.7 billion), an all-time high for Taiwan. Nearly 11 million travelers visited Taiwan in 2018, according to government data. Tourism accounts for almost 2 percent of the country’s GDP.