The number of foreign cruise tourists to Korea has increased over the last six years, emerging as a welcome boost in the inbound travel market.
Korea saw the number of foreign cruise passengers stopping at Korean ports grow tenfold from 70,000 in 2008 to 700,000 last year. Last year saw a two-fold increase from the previous year and the number is expected to reach about 900,000 this year, according to the Korea Tourism Organization.
“We expect the number of cruise tourists to Korea to continue to rise for the next four to five years. We anticipate it will reach 1 million by 2016,” said Charles Lim, deputy director of the tourism product team of the KTO.
Still, the number accounts for about 6 percent of the total foreign tourist arrivals in Korea, which reached about 12 million last year, but the KTO expects the share will rise to 10 percent in five years.
|Chinese cruise passengers arrive at the Jeju port on Jan. 2. (Yonhap News)|
Chinese passengers represent 61 percent of all cruise tourists to Korea, followed by the Japanese, Americans and Australians. The Chinese also spent $913 per person on average, more than the average of $662 that foreign tourists spend on shopping.
“Cruise tourists are considered the biggest spenders among other types of tourists such as average travelers or MICE travelers. Rich people board cruise ships and spend more than other types of tourists,” said an official from Princess Cruise, an American-owned cruise line that operates ships around China, Korea and Japan.
Princess Cruise decided to use the 116,000-ton Sapphire Princess cruise ship when they opened a branch in China last year to target the Northeast Asian market. Another notable change in its cruise itineraries this year is that all cruise ships departing from China stop at Korean ports.
“Foreign tourists who wish to visit Korea on our cruise ships are on the increase. Our cruise has selected three ports in Korea as destinations ― Busan, Jeju and Incheon. About 700,000 passengers will visit Korea through the three ports over four months,” said Gee Chan, director of the Korea office of Princess Cruise.
As more cruise tourists are expected to flock to Korea, the need to build infrastructure to accommodate more cruise ships and passengers has increased. Jeju, the most popular destination with 360,600 foreign cruise passengers last year, can’t handle the growing number of cruise passengers any more so it plans to open a new port on its southern coast in 2015. As Incheon Port has no cruise ship terminal, passengers are greeted with container boxes stacked at the freight terminal.
“The reason Korea doesn’t have a cruise ship departing from its own ports is that the quality of terminals for cruise liners is below par and demand is not sufficient compared with other Asian countries,” the Princess Cruise official said.
By Lee Woo-young (email@example.com