South Korea’s missile-shield spat with China is casting a pall over inbound tourism, causing a sharp plunge in Chinese group tour arrivals and prompting travel firms to seek out alternative inbound markets like South-east Asia.
South Korea welcomed 17.2 million foreign tourists in 2016, of which nearly 8.1 million were from China. According to a Korean Tourism Organization spokeperson, an increase in FIT and business travellers propped up Chinese arrivals to South Korea in 2H2016 but group and package tours had fallen through. Further statistics were not available at press time.
Gyeongbokgung Palace in spring
The Chinese government had refused to permit South Korean airlines to operate charter flights during the Lunar New Year, and the Chinese Embassy had also earlier notified South Korean travel agencies of new rules imposed on Chinese travellers to make the visa application process more laborious.
The Yonhap News agency quoted travel agencies as saying that Chinese visitors have also declined by as much as 50 per cent during the Lunar New Year (January 27 to February 2) period.
“The Chinese government is pushing their agents not to sell packages to (South) Korea, and many other travel companies have seen lots of groups cancelling trips,” said Daniel Kim of Seoul-based HaB Korea Tour.
“We have to develop new markets and find clients from other countries,” he lamented.
David Won, manager of One Day Korea Tourist and Travel, estimates that Chinese bookings are down as much as 30 per cent in recent months.
“We have to change our strategies and are increasingly looking at travellers from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan for our tours,” he told TTG Asia.