The number of Chinese visitors to South Korea has declined sharply this month compared with a year earlier, after Beijing imposed a group tour ban to protest Seoul's deployment of an advanced US anti-missile battery, the government said Wednesday.
A total of 280,000 Chinese tourists came into the country between March 1-19, down 21.9 percent from 360,000 tallied over the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
Early this month, Beijing told its travel agencies to stop selling group tour packages for South Korea, in what appears to be retaliation for Seoul's decision to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense on its soil. The Chinese ban took effect March 15.
It is the first official data presented by the Korean government that shows a fall in Chinese tourists since the announcement of the trip ban, which has caused the local tourism industry to fear it may lose a large number of customers.
Last year, Chinese visitors accounted for nearly half of some 17 million foreigners who visited the country.
In the cited period, duty-free stores saw their sales shrink 12 percent from a year earlier, with the number of their Chinese customers sliding 29 percent, the ministry said.
Travel agencies are estimated to have suffered some 7 billion won ($6.23 million) in losses between March 1-19 alone and are bracing for 8.4 billion won in losses from trip cancellations in April. None of the travel agencies have received new bookings.
Hotels are estimated to have lost about 7.5 billion won in sales, the ministry said. (Yonhap)