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(LEAD)(News Focus) S. Korea reaches landmark in number of foreign tourists
By Kim Kwang-tae
SEOUL, Nov. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea achieved a landmark in tourism on Wednesday by attracting more than 10 million foreign tourists this year, which industry watchers say will give a fillip to the country's tourism industry struggling amid a protracted economic slump.

   Buoyed by the growing influx of Chinese and Japanese tourists, the number of foreign tourists to South Korea surpassed the 10 million mark earlier in the day, with the full-year figure expected to reach 11.3 million, up from last year's 9.79 million.

   Wang Il is one of a growing number of Chinese tourists who choose South Korea for their overseas trips in recent years amid a boom in the "Korean Wave," known as "hallyu," in China, Japan and other Asian countries.

   Wang busily walked through Myeong-dong, the bustling shopping district in central Seoul, as he and his female Chinese friends tried to buy Korean cosmetics on Wednesday.

   The mechanical engineer from the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang said he has spent 5,000 Chinese yuan (US$800) on bags and cosmetics in a duty free shop in Seoul since his arrival last weekend.

   "I am moving around Seoul for shopping," said Wang, who carried a plastic shopping bag with Lotte Duty Free written in English, and tasted an ice cream cone he bought from one of street vendors dotting the district.
A total of 2.44 million Chinese visited South Korea in the first 10 months of 2012, up 29.5 percent from a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

   Chinese outbound departures reached 38.5 million in the first six months of 2012, up 19.7 percent from the same period last year, according to Pacific Asia Travel Association. The development suggests a boom of Chinese outbound tourism, despite slowing growth in the world's No. 2 economy.

   The number of Japanese tourists visiting South Korea stood at 3 million in the January-October period, up 14 percent from a year earlier, according to the ministry.

   A surge in Chinese and Japanese tourists helped South Korea achieve its milestone in tourism on Wednesday when the number of foreign tourists visiting South Korea this year surpassed the 10 million mark.

   Li Tingting, 28, who became the 10 millionth person to visit South Korea this year, said her interest in Korean cuisine and cosmetics prompted her to visit South Korea, noting she is also a fan of South Korean television dramas.

   It is the first time that the number of foreign tourists has topped 10 million in one year. The number of inbound travelers has grown an average of 15 percent for 33 years since it exceeded 1 million in 1978. It topped 5 million in 2000 and surpassed 7 million in 2010.

   Choe Kwang-shik, minister of culture, sports and tourism, said hallyu and other South Korean efforts to attract more foreign tourists have paid off, a move that transformed what he describes as an "island" bordering North Korea into a popular tourist destination.

   South Korea is within striking distance of North Korea's missiles. Seoul, the South Korean capital city of more than 10 million people, is also within range of North Korea's conventional artillery.

   North Korea has repeatedly threatened to attack South Korea in recent years, though the harsh rhetoric apparently did not scare away foreign tourists.

   "In the past, I was worried about North Korea, but it is not the case anymore," said Yoko Naka, a 39-year-old who works at an ophthalmic clinic in Kyoto, as she looked at a map with her seven co-workers to find a Korean restaurant for lunch.

   Naka said North Korea was not a "big deal" once she came to South Korea for the first time. She said she plans to spend 50,000 yen ($610) on cosmetics.

   Wang, the mechanical engineer from China, also said he is not concerned about tensions between South and North Korea, noting the situation does not seemed to be as serious as reported by the media.

   Two years ago this week, North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island near the tense sea border with North Korea. The attack killed two Marines and two civilians, and triggered fears of a full-scale conflict on the divided peninsula, which is still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

   The growing number of foreign tourists has also helped generate revenue for South Korean retailers such as Lotte Duty Free.

   Lotte Duty Free, South Korea's largest duty free shop by sales, said more than 6 million foreigners visited its shops this year, up 27 percent from a year earlier.

   Chinese tourists are estimated to have spent 270 billion won in South Korea during China's week-long national holiday in October.

   The influx of foreign tourists is also likely to help reduce the deficit of South Korea's tourism account to $1.2 billion this year, down from a $10.9 billion deficit in 2007, according to the culture ministry.

   "I would like to come to South Korea again with my family members," Wang said.