중앙데일리

Fewer overseas tourists visit Korea over summer

Sept 02,2009
Local tourism agencies are struggling as the number of both inbound and outbound travelers decreases in the wake of the spread of the A(H1N1) virus and a changing economic landscape, according to industry sources.

Hana Tour, the nation’s leading travel agency, has cancelled chartered flights to Southeast Asia including destinations such as Phuket, Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as to cities in Japan. In addition, the firm said the number of reservations for September has decreased 40 percent on-year.

“People are not necessarily canceling pre-booked package tours but we aren’t getting many new bookings at the moment,” said Kim Mi-kyung of Hana Tour.

To soften the financial blow, the agency said it has asked 1,400 employees to take five days of non-paid vacation this month to save up to 25 percent on labor costs.

According to the Korea Tourism Organization, the number of outbound travelers decreased 12.3 percent in July on-year from 1,135,843 to 996,695. The statistics for August haven’t been released yet.

Though the number of inbound travelers on-year increased 7.2 percent in July from 568,446 to 609,258, the on-year increase is far below the January figure, 25.3 percent, before the new flu broke out. The number of overseas visitors to Korea fell by 1.7 percent in June on-year, according to the KTO.

Local travel agencies offering packages to overseas visitors don’t look too healthy either for the next few months, even though Japan will have its “silver” week from Sept. 19 to 23 and China has national holidays from Oct. 1 to 7.

“It is difficult for us to expect a large number of inbound visitors,” said a tour industry official who asked to be unnamed. “The situation is very different from last year when crowds of Japanese tourists visited in October when the yen was so strong.”

However, while the number of travelers going overseas might have decreased, domestic tourism is looking relatively rosy as Koreans opt for local trips in places such as Jeju Island.

The number of travelers to Jeju Island last month was 726,154, according to the Jeju Special Self-Governing Provincial Tourism Association. In August 2008, 602,378 tourists visited the island. Making the most of the opportunity, the association is targeting packages at honeymoon couples or families.

Meanwhile, retail stores have reported a spurt in the sales of hand sanitizers that are said to help prevent new flu infections. Sales of sanitation supplies at online marketplace Auction from Aug. 17 to 28 increased 320 percent compared with the period Aug. 3 to 14, and sales are still on the rise. Other hot items are thermometers and masks. “Due to the new flu, we expect the overall volume of local sanitizer products to increase four to five times on-year,” said Yoo Moon-sook from Auction.

Local pharmacies are also benefitting from sanitary product sales. “Even people without a cold visit the store to buy masks just in case,” says Moon Kyung-sook, a pharmacist in Gwangjin District, eastern Seoul. “Very few people bought any of these items [masks and hand sanitizers] before the outbreak of the flu.”


By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]



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