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[Editorial] Chinese tourist rush

The Chinese national holiday celebrating the Oct. 1, 1949, founding of the People’s Republic of China stretches seven days, extending to the Oct. 8-9 weekend this year. An estimated 300 million people will be traveling during the long holiday. The China Tourism Agency expected that about 2.2 million Chinese would travel overseas during the period.

Here, tourism authorities believe that some 70,000 Chinese will be visiting Korea for the national holidays. A retailing network firm alone is sending 10,000 employees to Jeju Island. They are a small fraction of the outbound Chinese tourists, but already hotels, shops and restaurants in Seoul and Jeju are literally overflowing with travelers from the Middle Kingdom. Seoul subway trains reverberate with the conversations among jovial Chinese tourist groups.

Duty free shops and cosmetics, clothes and souvenir stores are crowded with Chinese customers, who merchants say spend twice as much as their Japanese counterparts. Some Korean brands that were struggling under dwindling demand at home were quickly revived as they earned popularity among the young Chinese.

Tourism authorities are now more optimistic about attaining their goal of 10 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2011 with the rapid rise of Chinese visitors. By the end of August, 6,187,000 foreign tourists came to Korea, including 1,947,858 Japanese, 1,440,809 Chinese nationals and 178,944 Hong Kong residents. The Chinese could possibly outnumber the Japanese for the first time by the end of the year if the present trend continues. Soon, there will also be a balance between Korean visits to China and Chinese arrivals in Korea.

The steep increase of Chinese tourists caught tourism businesses here unprepared. The shortage of hotel rooms in Seoul forced the visitors to look for accommodation in Incheon and suburban areas. Restaurant menus include few dishes that suit the Chinese taste. A wholly new line of businesses will have to be created to cater to the needs of Chinese tourists.

Surveys show that less than 70 percent of Chinese tourists want to come here again. It is up to the tourist businesses and the authorities guiding them to make Korea a more attractive destination for the millions of Chinese rushing out to see the rest of the world.