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S. Korea expects boost from Chinese tourists

By Yang Han in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-02 07:26
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A tourist takes photos at Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea, March 7, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

The resumption of Chinese group tours will boost South Korea's economy, experts say, adding that tourism and cultural exchanges can also help improve bilateral relations.

China recently announced a third round of resumed outbound group tours to 78 countries and regions, including South Korea.

On Thursday, the first Chinese cruise ship since 2017 arrived at South Korea's largest resort island of Jeju. The Shanghai Blue Dream Star carried 668 Chinese tourists, Yonhap News Agency reported.

Suh Yong-gu, marketing professor in Sookmyung Business School at Sookmyung Women's University in South Korea, said China resuming group tours would be "positive" for South Korea's economy.

The Bank of Korea said it projects that nearly 2.2 million Chinese tourists will visit South Korea from July to December. In the fourth quarter, the number is expected to reach 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

In the first half of this year, about 564,000 Chinese tourists visited South Korea. This was equivalent to just 19.5 percent of the 2.8 million recorded in the first half of 2019, Korea Tourism Organization said.

"The resumption of Chinese group tours to South Korea is no doubt very good news," said An Yong-ju, a professor of global leisure and tourism at Sun Moon University, noting that tourism is more than the mobility of people because all activities related to it will have a strong impact on the economy.

To sustain the momentum, An said the South Korean government needs to put in more effort since it has the biggest role to play in attracting more Chinese tourists to the country.

China was the first country to reach 6 million tourist visits to South Korea and Chinese travelers accounted for nearly half of total foreign tourists in 2014.

But arrivals dropped significantly after that. An said the COVID-19 pandemic and diplomatic tensions after the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile system in South Korea in 2017 contributed to the drop in arrivals.

Peak in 2019

As South Korea saw a record high of 17.5 million international arrivals in 2019, An said the number could have easily surpassed 20 million if Seoul had formed better relations with Beijing.

Besides Jeju, Incheon, Busan and Mokpo are all ramping up efforts to attract Chinese tourists by introducing targeted products and services, arranging overseas promotional events, as well as cooperating with major Chinese travel agencies.

Duty free chains like Shinsegae, which welcomed the first Chinese tour group of 31 people on Aug 26, are working to improve Chinese language services and offering promotional campaigns with Chinese digital payment platform WeChat Pay.

"We expect to see more Chinese group tourists from October when there is (China's) National Day holiday," Park Sang-sun, from the overseas sales department of Shinsegae Duty Free, said.

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