(News Focus) Influx of Chinese tourists lifts S. Korea's tourism sector
By Kim Deok-hyun
SEOUL, Dec. 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's tourism sector has attracted a record number of Chinese tourists so far this year, helped by campaigns and the easing of visa rules to target a growing group of Chinese independent tourists.
The country's foreign tourism sector is also getting back on track after last year's downturn following the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus in mid-2015, when large numbers of Chinese tourists canceled visits to South Korea.
A weakening Korean currency is also partly helping the nation draw more foreign tourists over other Asian nations.
Foreign tourists arrivals in South Korea are expected to reach 17.2 million this year, up 30 percent from last year, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
This undated file photo shows a crowd of tourists at Incheon International Airport in South Korea. (Yonhap)
Chinese tourists are expected to account for nearly half of all foreign tourists this year with 8.04 million predicted to visit South Korea, up 34.4 percent from last year.
The number of Japanese tourists is also expected to rise 24.8 percent on year to 2.29 million people this year. The number of Taiwanese tourists is forecast to surge 60.4 percent to 830,000, while about 650,000 Hong Kong tourists, up 23.7 percent on-year, are forecast to visit South Korea this year.
To target a growing number of Chinese tourists who favor independent travel over traditional group packages, South Korea's tourism industry has unveiled a total of 88 packages featuring independent itineraries this year.
Hwang Myeong-seon, director at the ministry's tourism policy division, said the government needs to step up efforts to develop tour packages that better appeal to foreign tourists.
"In order to make the Korean tourism industry take a leap forward, the government and the tourism sector must make joint efforts to develop Korea-only tourism contents," Hwang said.
Starting as early as next month, South Korea will issue multiple entry visas to Chinese travelers who buy expensive vacation packages, the latest in a series of efforts to attract rich Chinese tourists.
The government said Chinese travelers who purchase a package worth more than 3 million won (US$2,491) for three nights will be allowed to enter South Korea freely during a five-year period. They can stay up to 30 days each entry.
Currently, South Korea issues a single-entry visa for Chinese tourist groups.
To capitalize on the popularity of Korean TV dramas and K-pop music, South Korea is developing customized travel packages for Chinese visitors. South Korea and China plan to form a vice minister-level consultative body in March next year to help weed out cheaper travel packages that mostly involve shopping -- a practice that critics say has drawn complaints among Chinese tourists.
"The government will make efforts to diversify the source of foreign tourists by launching marketing campaigns targeting Japan and Southeast Asian nations," said a ministry official.
According to the World Tourism Organization, international tourist arrivals around the world rose 4 percent on year in the first nine months of this year.
Over the period, international tourist arrivals to South Korea jumped 36 percent on year.
This year, an increase in foreign tourist arrivals is likely to generate tourism-related revenues worth 19.4 trillion won and create about 374,000 tourism-related jobs, the ministry said.