Japan’s Loss Is S. Korea’s Gain During China’s “Super Golden Week”

50 Percent Rise In Chinese Tourists Headed Overseas During National Day Holiday

Chinese tourists continue to shell out in Korea for cosmetics, apparel and "meditel"

According to statistics released this weekend, China’s “Super Golden Week” lived up to its name, with the number of overseas-bound travelers up 50 percent year-over-year and more than 34 million domestic tourists hitting the country’s 119 major scenic destinations over the course of the eight-day holiday. With domestic tourism up nearly 21 percent over the same period last year, China’s National Tourism Administration (NTA) said that tourism income leapt nearly 25 percent to 1.77 billion yuan (US$278.4 million). While not every tourist destination was exactly pleasant for travelers — scenes of throngs of tourists crowded onto the Great Wall of China or Beijing’s Forbidden City spring to mind, as do miles-long traffic jams — retailers throughout the country recorded estimated revenue of 800.6 billion yuan (US$127.4 billion) over the break, a 15 percent rise over last year.

With highways and popular tourist sites in China jam-packed, outbound tourism surged during Golden Week, with an estimated 50 percent increase in international bookings over last year. 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 Korea becoming the top destination for outbound Chinese travelers. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, 100,000 Chinese tourists visited the country during Super Golden Week, a 35 percent increase over last year. As the JoongAng Daily recently noted, Jeju Island, a popular destination among Chinese travelers, saw an influx of nearly 33,000 visitors between September 29 and October 3, a nearly 60 percent leap year-over-year.

Chinese tourists arrive at Korea's Incheon Airport in 2010 following China's last island dispute with Japan

Retailers in Seoul, particularly in the luxury sector, ramped up their overtures to China in the run-up to Golden Week, attempting to tug at heartstrings by running an advertisement in China’s People’s Daily newspaper celebrating the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties between South Korea and China. Also angling for more Chinese tourist-shoppers, Galleria Department Store in southern Seoul, arguably the most popular shopping destination among Chinese tourists in that part of the city, recently opened its VIP rooms to select Chinese customers and now accepts payment in both Chinese yuan and the Hong Kong dollar. The store also beefed up its concierge services, increasing the number of Chinese-speaking staff and handing out special gift certificates to Chinese shoppers who spent at least 1 million won (US$880). Response to these efforts has apparently been positive, as the Galleria’s Luxury Hall recorded a 121 percent sales increase year-over-year between January and July. Another sprawling store, Hyundai Department Store in Seoul’s Apgujeong, itself saw a 95 percent rise in Chinese customers as of this August, and expected a surge during Golden Week.

Clearly, at the moment South Korea’s tourism, auto, cosmetic and even plastic surgery industries are benefitting from the ongoing China-Japan tensions — certainly this was the case this Golden Week, when many previously Japan-bound Chinese travelers headed instead to Seoul or Jeju — but how long this remains the case is anybody’s guess. As Suh Dae-hoon of the Korea Association of Travel Agents, told the FT this week, “We have seen the number of Chinese tourists here pick up recently but it remains to be seen how long the indirect impact from the tension between China and Japan will last.”


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