As Koreans empty the usually bustling streets of Seoul, spending the Lunar New Year holiday with parents and relatives, their travel-loving neighbors from China will surge in.
This year, an unprecedented number of Chinese tourists are expected to arrive.
The country hopes to greet some 126,000 Chinese visitors for the Lunar New Year holiday starting next week, up by 30 percent from the previous year, according to the state-run Korea Tourism Organization.
A Lotte duty-free shop in Seoul is crowded with Chinese tourists on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
The number of Chinese tourists arriving during the holiday have risen steadily at an average rate of 27.5 percent for the last five years as Korea emerged as the third most visited travel destination among mainland Chinese after Hong Kong and Macau.
The country is preparing for the influx of Chinese tourists with a variety of welcome events that start from arrival gates of major international airports in Incheon, Yangyang and Gimhae to popular shopping districts.
In Seoul and Busan, temporary tourist information trucks will be parked at popular shopping places, offering useful travel information, interpretation service, and free Wi-Fi and cellphone charge. Busan expects some 15,000 Chinese travelers to visit the second largest city, up by 25 percent from last year’s holiday.
Retailers are also offering sales promotions to lure the world’s biggest spending travelers.
Cheil Industries of popular Korean clothing brands such as Bean Pole, Eight Seconds, KUHO and Galaxy will offer red envelopes enclosed with gift vouchers. The brands will give away prizes such as 8.8 grams of pure gold, clothing, gift cards, socks, face masks and selfie sticks for more than 2,000 customers.
Korea Grand Sale, the annual sales event in winter, will be held throughout February across the country. More than 28,000 retailers, including department stores, supermarkets, duty-free shops, are participating to offer discounts and gifts to foreign tourists.
This year, more Chinese tourists are expected to escape cities and binge shopping for outdoor activities in provinces.
“Travel patterns of Chinese tourists are becoming diversified. Their travel itineraries used to constitute shopping and sightseeing, but they are looking for new experiences like skiing in winter,” said Yoo Jin-ho, director of marketing and strategy team of the KTO.
The Chinese emerged as one of the largest groups of foreign tourists visiting Korean ski resorts after visitors from Southeast Asia, he said.
The Chinese skiers in Korea, mostly from southern China, find Korean ski resorts more accessible than remote ski resorts located in the Northeast China such as in Harbin. This week, some 150 Chinese tourists from Guangdong Province visited High 1 Ski Resort in Gangwon Province for the four-day ski lesson.
Travel operators are actively developing and promoting such ski programs for Chinese tourists whose interest in winter sports is growing with the country bidding to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“Good quality programs like ski lessons also contribute to enhancing Korea’s image to Chinese tourists. I think the popularity of Korean ski tourism will be fueled by more Chinese tourists seeking fresh experiences,” said Kwak Sang-seob, head of the KTO’s Guangzhou office.
By Lee Woo-young (email@example.com)