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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 9)

2017/09/09 09:07

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Visit Korea

Olympics can serve as impetus to overcome tourism slump

Recently, there has been discouraging news about Korea's tourism. A Bank of Korea report showed the nation's travel deficit in July rose 39.8 percent from a year ago to $1.79 billion.

The record-low figure is due to a decline in foreign tourists and rise in the number of Koreans traveling abroad.

In particular, there was a noticeable drop in the number of Chinese travelers to Korea, decreasing by 69.3 percent to 281,000. Beijing banned travel agencies from sending group tours to Korea earlier this year as a retaliatory measure against Korea's deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. The number of tourists from Japan and Europe has also been declining.

The geopolitical tension caused by Pyongyang's increasing provocations is also impacting Korea's appeal as a tourism hub among foreign travelers.

On the other hand, the number of Koreans traveling abroad hit a record high of 2.39 million in July, rising 14.5 percent from a year ago.

Korea should use its position as an Olympic host to lift up the tourism industry. Aside from being the world's biggest sporting event, the Olympics are a great opportunity to promote the host country's tourism, cultural and history assets.

President Moon Jae-in, who was appointed honorary ambassador for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, spent a part of his summer vacation in PyeongChang to promote the alpine city as a tourist destination. He has also been introducing the city to fellow world leaders. But still, PyeongChang is unknown to the outside world. With just a few months left until the Olympics, Korea's diplomatic missions and cultural centers should spread tourist attractions from all over Korea in their host countries.

The relevant ministries and the Korea Tourism Organization should also work together on diversifying Korea's tourism and reducing its heavy dependence on Chinese tourists. The government recently announced marketing plans to attract more tourists from Taiwan and Vietnam.

It is important to increase domestic travel by Koreans. Many Koreans choose to travel to nearby countries like Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong instead of going to popular local destinations like Jeju Island because of high prices in Korea nowadays.

Koreans also need more leisure time. A recent report showed nearly a quarter of salaried workers did not take summer vacations. If Koreans had more free time, they would consider taking long weekends and traveling to nearby destinations as well as faraway regions. Reducing the notoriously long work hours and giving workers the liberty to take all of their annual vacation days could be effective for promoting interest in domestic travel.