Korean tourism industry seeking ways to lessen impact from China’s suspension on tour package sales

China’s ban on group tour packages to Korea
came into force on Wednesday. Part of growing retaliation against Seoul’s
defense upgrade deemed necessary against North Korean attack… which Beijing perceives as
a security threat. Our Oh Jung-hee hit the streets of Myeong-dong
to gauge the impact… and highlights what Korea can do to minimize the shock. About two weeks ago, the authorities in Beijing
told Chinese travel agencies to stop selling all tour packages to Korea starting March
15th. Over the following week, Korea’s main gateway,
Incheon International Airport, saw passenger numbers fall by 180-thousand. Visitor numbers at Korea’s royal palaces and
shrines plunged to about 60-percent of normal levels… and several cruise ships canceled
trips to Korea’s southern port city of Busan and the resort island of Jeju-do. Those cancellations meant the loss of a few
hundred-thousand tourists. “But this could just be the beginning,…
as the policy goes into effect on Wednesday. The number of Chinese tourists to Korea is
expected to drop exponentially, dealing a significant blow to Korea’s tourism industry.” The shopping district of Myeong-dong, in central
Seoul, isn’t as crowded as it used to be. A couple of store clerks who didn’t want to
give their names told Arirang… they’re seeing around 80-percent fewer Chinese customers. They’re choosing to speak Japanese to bring
people in. “Before, about 5 out of 10 foreign visitors
to Myeong-dong were Chinese, but that’s dropped to 2 or 3 out of 10. Myeong-dong shops that have depended on Chinese
customers have been hit hard. I think it’s now time to shift our attention
to customers from other countries like Japan or Southeast Asia, as they make up the other
half of foreign visitors.” Duty-free shops — where Chinese tourists
used to account for at least 70-percent of sales — are already making the shift. The big ones are signing partnerships with
travel agencies in Japan, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Four restaurants at the Galleria Duty Free
Store have had their menus certified as Muslim-friendly. Some say this is a chance for Korea to change
its tourism environment… to attract visitors from a variety of countries. “Korea’s tour agencies have led Chinese tourists
to shop particularly in duty-free shops. But that’s not the main part of tourism activity. We’ve got to focus on quality tourism reflecting
local authenticity or local culture or some contents.” That means… the focus has to be giving visitors
a first-hand experience of Korean culture through activities… and developing original
cultural products. Oh Jung-hee, Arirang News.

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