THE number of foreign visitors to South Korea tumbled nearly 7 per cent in 2015, with the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) largely blamed for the decline, resulting in only 13.2 million arrivals last year.
This is the first time South Korea is reporting arrival contractions in 12 years.
The figures were particularly disappointing given that arrivals in the first five months of the year were up around 10 per cent compared to the same period in 2014, but soon plummeted after the MERS outbreak.
Arrivals from Singapore, Malaysia and Brazil were hit the hardest, said Irin Lin, spokesperson for the Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) in Singapore.
“There were several factors for the decline in Singapore visitors to South Korea last year, including the outbreak of MERS during the June school holidays, which is usually one of the peak periods.”
Chinese visitors similarly stayed away, with numbers declining 2.3 per cent to 5.9 million arrivals last year as numerous flights and tour packages cancelled during the peak summer months.
But arrivals recovered after the outbreak was declared over and the KTO has been active in promoting South Korea as a destination for 2016 and beyond.
“In view of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, KTO has launched the Visit Korea campaign this year and it will run until 2018,” said Lin.
“During these three years, more activities, events and promotional campaigns will be lined up to encourage travel to South Korea.”