Chinese Surpassed Japanese Last Year As Top Foreign Tourists In South Korea
With highways and popular tourist sites in China jam-packed during national holidays, nearby South Korea has seen a rising tide of Chinese travelers hit its shores in recent years, supplanting Japanese as the country’s top foreign visitors in 2012. This influx was particularly clear last fall during Golden Week, when upwards of 120,000 Chinese tourists visited Korea between September 30-October 7, spending around US$18 million along the way. With China-Japan tourism plummeting in the wake of the ongoing Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute, much like we saw in 2010, Japan’s loss was South Korea’s gain, with Chinese tourist-shoppers flocking to Seoul department stores and luxury boutiques. The convenience of traveling to South Korea hasn’t only benefited retailers and hoteliers in Seoul, however, as Chinese tourists are a regular sight in places like Jeju Island, which itself welcomed over 30,000 Chinese tourists during Golden Week alone.
While shop-owners and department stores have stepped up their efforts to woo the Chinese consumer, placing ads in Chinese newspapers and holding promotional events in mainland China, by all accounts many destinations in Korea remains woefully under-equipped to deal with the growing visitor base. As Yonhap reported last October, the city of Busan has only one Chinese-speaking registered official travel guide, compared to over 260 Japanese-speaking guides.
Accommodations are another problem, particularly around Chinese holidays, with the Korea Business Herald noting that the country should address “the lack of accommodation and infrastructure, low-quality travel products and mistreatment of Chinese tourists by Koreans.”
Considering its popularity among Chinese travelers, it’s perhaps not surprising that Jeju Island is one of the fastest movers in terms of kicking up efforts to better cope with rising tourist numbers. As the Chosun Ilbo writes this week, the provincial government reported that 91 luxury accommodation facilities with a total of 6,235 rooms were green-lit for construction over the course of 2012, up three-fold from 2011, when only 28 high-end facilities were approved. These new constructions can’t come soon enough, as the newspaper points out that the island received over 9.7 million visitors last year, among them over 1 million Chinese — roughly equal to the number that visited France in 2012. Even with the new constructions, rooms are hard to come by. As the Chosun Ilbo notes, hotel rooms on the island reserved for Chinese tour groups are already fully booked through August.