The icy relationship between Seoul and Beijing over the deployment of an advanced US missile defense system in Korea may end up cutting the number of Chinese tourists here by half, a state-run tourism body said Wednesday.
Last month, China reportedly issued an order to major travel agencies not to sell tours to Korea after March 15, following the Seoul-Washington alliance’s decision to station the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system here.
According to the Korea Tourism Organization, the number of Chinese visiting Korea from March 16 to Sunday decreased by 63.6 percent compared to the same period the year before. The on-year decline for March was about 39.4 percent.
“While China has curbed tourism to other countries like Japan and Taiwan before, the number of Chinese visiting Korea now is higher compared to those numbers. The impact on Korea would be more severe, and so is the magnitude of Beijing’s measures,” said KTO President Jung Chang-soo. Of the 17 million tourists who visited Korea last year, 8 million were Chinese.
“Considering that Korea’s tourism industry is highly dependent on the Chinese market, the impact is expected to grow even more,” said Park Jeong-ha, director of KTO’s marketing planning team.
The KTO estimated that less than 4 million Chinese would visit the country if the current trend continues.
In response, the travel organization plans to attract those from other countries -- namely Japan -- and expand infrastructure and service to encourage domestic travel by Koreans.
This includes a special campaign “Help Korea via Travelling” that urges Koreans to travel within the country, not outside, giving discounts on tour programs and encouraging state-run and private companies to give more vacation time to employees.
The KTO said it is negotiating with local companies on employees’ vacations and with the government authorities to acquire the budget to reimburse tourism agencies on the aforementioned discounts. No specific plan or budget has been confirmed yet.
Cheong urged the private sector to do its part in dealing with the falling tourist numbers. “I hope the (tourism) industry will show its effort first, and then the regional authorities. After that the government should follow,” said Cheong.
By Yoon Min-sik