South Korea's major retailers are pumping up efforts to prepare for a potential inflow of Chinese tourists amid signs of a thaw in Sino-Korean relations, industry sources said Wednesday.
Last week, Seoul and Beijing agreed to put bilateral ties back on track, setting aside their bitter row over the deployment of a US missile defense shield here and raising hopes for the return of Chinese visitors.
The showdown, which led to Beijing's ban on group tours to South Korea, has dealt a harsh blow to local duty-free shops and department stores as Chinese tourists were their main customers.
An upcoming bilateral summit is widely expected to further improve bilateral relations. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is slated to meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jin-ping on the sidelines of an APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam, on Friday through Saturday. There is also the possibility that President Moon may visit the neighboring country within this year.
According to industry watchers, thawing relations between the Asian economic powerhouses have raised expectations for China's lifting of the travel ban and sent local retail giants scurrying to make preparations for the full-fledged inflow of Chinese visitors.
Lotte Duty Free, South Korea's No. 1 duty-free operator, said the company is ramping up its marketing activities through Chinese social media, including Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. In addition, it is expanding exchanges with Chinese travel agencies.
Shilla Duty Free, the No. 2 industry player, is considering a familiarization tour for officials of Chinese travel agencies while stepping up promotion through social media by working with Chinese power blogger.
Shinsegae Duty Free said it is working with Chinese airlines and credit card companies on ways to resume its marketing activities targeting Chinese tourists.
Large department store chains are also jumping on the bandwagon. Three major department stores -- Lotte, Hyundai and Shinsegae -- are set to resume tie-up programs with Chinese travel agencies and credit card companies in preparation for the return of Chinese customers.
An industry source said improving relations between South Korea and China have resulted in a changed mood. "It may take a while for Chinese tourists to revisit South Korea in droves, but the mood has clearly changed. Local retailers will launch massive marketing and promotional activities once Chinese tourists start to return." (Yonhap)