[Viewpoint] Chilly reception for Chinese touristsAround 200 Chinese university students filed in as soon as the doors of Centum City shopping center in Busan opened on the morning of Nov. 7. The students, who were visiting Korea as part of a tour hosted by the China Institute, spread out and busily swept things into their baskets. But when it was time to leave, one of the students failed to show up, which could have made the group late for their flight. One of the group leaders ran to the information desk and asked if an announcement could be made in Chinese. The answer he received was “No,” because there were no Chinese speakers on staff. After repeated requests to allow the group leader to make the announcement, the employee shook his head, saying that people from outside “are not allowed in the announcement room,” but that an announcement in English could be made. However, it was determined that the student, who does not understand English, would not hear the English announcement and the idea was abandoned. Group members proceeded to run around the center to look for the “missing person” and it took about 30 minutes to find him.
I was on that tour, so I have first-hand knowledge of the group’s experiences.
The incident in Busan was not the only instance of neglect the group encountered. When we visited Yongin Korean Folk Village, a traditional Korean marriage ceremony was staged. The wedding hall looked beautiful, eliciting gasps of awe from the Chinese students. Soon enough, however, expressions of boredom started to spread across their faces. The problem was there was no explanation, not in English let alone in Chinese.
Although there are an increasing number of signs in Chinese, after having been a guide for a Chinese tour group, I realize it is not enough.
After all, the Chinese tourism market has grown. Furthermore, Chinese tourists spend more than tourists from other countries. Last year, around 45.85 million Chinese traveled to foreign countries. Around 1.37 million, or just 3 percent, came to Korea. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, that number should be at least 20 percent or above.
Korean people frequently say that we cannot beat the Chinese manufacturing industry, and that we have to compete in softer, more creative fields such as design, films and fashion. At the core of this industry is tourism.
The reality is that Korea is practically chasing potential tourists away instead of welcoming them. Many tourists end up shuttling between cheap shopping malls and having fast meals that leave them hungry.
An education professor at Guizhou University, who accompanied the Chinese group, marveled, “Korea is such a clean, magnificent country!” But when I asked if he would come back with his family, he was uncertain, saying, “I would if I had something work-related, but for vacation.?.?.”
How long will we chase away Chinese tourists who come to Korea to spend money? This is the question that remained in my head during the entire week I spent with the Chinese university students.
*The writer is deputy director of the China Institute of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Han Woo-duk