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Chinese holidaymakers flocking to Korea

Korea’s Lotte Department Store runs its first advertisement in China’s state-run newspaper People’s Daily on Jan. 17 and 20 to attract more Chinese travelers to the stores during China’s Jan. 22-28 spring holiday season. (Yonhap News)
Korea’s Lotte Department Store runs its first advertisement in China’s state-run newspaper People’s Daily on Jan. 17 and 20 to attract more Chinese travelers to the stores during China’s Jan. 22-28 spring holiday season. (Yonhap News)
At least 45,000 Chinese travelers are expected to flock to Korea during the neighboring state’s biggest holiday beginning over the weekend, according to Korea’s tourism agency.

An average of 800 million Chinese people travel abroad or visit local regions during the country’s Lunar New Year holiday, which falls on Jan. 22-28 this year.

Expecting the number of Chinese visitors to increase by about 35 percent from the previous year, the Korea Tourism Organization has been preparing events for the large influx of tourists.

“As 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of Korea-China diplomatic ties, we are anticipating some 3.4 million people from China to visit the country this year,” said Han Hwa-joon, head of the KTO’s China bureau.

Chinese tourists have taken up the largest share of the Korean tourism sector over the past few years, largely due to the growing interest in Korean culture in China and the growth of the country’s economy.

Some 2.2 million Chinese came to Korea last year, spending up to 13 trillion won on high-end products including cosmetics, jewelry, designer-brand bags, watches and clothing, according to data by local market researcher Bain & Company.

In a separate survey taken by Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry last year of some 300 major stores and duty free shops in Korea, nearly 60 percent answered that Chinese travelers have “stronger spending tendency” than people from Europe, Japan and elsewhere.

Starting off with the 2012 Korea Grand Sale ― offering special discounts in shopping, accommodation and transportation to foreign tourists ― the KTO has launched special discount promotions for China’s Union Pay credit card users. Those who shop with the card in stores in Myeong-dong, Jeju Island and other popular destinations will receive special discounts and bonus points.

The KTO expects Chinese travelers to spend at least 60 billion won ($52 million) with the Union Pay card in January alone, the amount adding up to 100 billion won including cash.

Korea also plans to have a Visit Korea Year ceremony in Beijing in February and to hold cultural performance road shows in some 18 major Chinese cities.

The KTO has been operating a Chinese-language website (www.xinger.kr) since 2010, with detailed information for travelers planning trips to Korea by themselves. The website includes information on passport and visa issuance, plane ticket purchases, and shops selling items worn by popular Korean celebrities.

The fourth edition of “M Xinger,” a magazine for Chinese travelers, will also be published, introducing Korea’s Lunar New Year’s holiday culture, the 2012 Korea Grand Sale, best ski resorts in the country and other useful information.

Some 2,000 volumes of the magazine will be distributed at major tourist information centers in Korea.

The lack of accommodation in Korea, however, is expected to remain a problem during the season.

According to a study on seven major hotels and resorts in Gyeonggi Province by the Gyeonggi Tourism Organization, some 8,700 Chinese travelers have already made reservations, which is almost three times the number of last year. Adjacent to Seoul and Incheon International Airport, the region has been seeing a large growth in travelers after Seoul.

Major hotels and resorts in Gangwon Province and Jeju Island, also popular among Chinese tourists, also have more than 90 percent of their rooms booked with 21,600 and 17,000 reservations made, respectively.

In a survey conducted in October last year, major travel agencies in China said they could draw hundreds of thousands more to visit Korea “should Korea secure more rooms” to accommodate them, according to the KTO.

Having recognized the problem for several years, the tourism agency has been trying to increase and upgrade accommodation facilities in the country through the Benikea and Korea Stay (B&B) programs.

Along with continued effort at government level to secure more accommodation, the KTO plans to introduce luxury travel packages for Chinese tourists this year to enhance Korea’s image.

“Many Chinese travelers regard Korea as an inexpensive tourist destination, especially compared to Japan, which can create problems,” KTO President Lee Charm said.

“Luxury packages would be effective in changing the Chinese people’s thoughts even if only a few people actually buy them.”

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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