No room at inn for Chinese tourists

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No room at inn for Chinese tourists

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Chinese tourists visit Lotte World, an indoor amusement park in Jamsil, southern Seoul, Saturday. A lot of Chinese are traveling to Seoul during their national holiday this week. [YONHAP]


The number of Chinese tourists visiting Seoul continues to rise and the number of hotels to accommodate them is still insufficient, causing complaints from visitors forced to stay in cheap motels in Gyeonggi.

According to tourism industry analysts, approximately 70,000 Chinese tourists are scheduled to visit Seoul during China’s week-long national holiday that started Saturday, a 20 percent increase from last year. Analysts expect the Chinese tourists to spend at least $100 million this week alone, as more and more Chinese shoppers snap up luxury items manufactured in Korea, such as handbags.

“For this weekend alone, we will have about 1,000 Chinese tourists,” said Im Gwang-ho, manager at Modetour, a local travel agency. “The influx of Chinese tourists is so massive that we can’t handle it well.”

The travel style of Chinese tourists is also evolving, industry officials said. More and more young Chinese are eschewing group tours and traveling on their own, booking their own air tickets and accommodations.

Korean tourism officials welcome the trend because individual travelers tend to spend more money than people in groups. The Korean Consulate in Shanghai reports that the number of Chinese who visited Seoul this year on group tour visas decreased by 5.5 percent compared to 2010, while those on individual visas rose by 9.2 percent.

According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, a Chinese tourist spends an average of $2,195 when visiting Seoul, which is $550 more than the average Japanese tourist spends.

The central government says the number of foreign tourists in Korea jumped to 8.79 million in 2010 from 5.32 million in 2001, a 65 percent increase. However, Seoul is running out of hotel rooms for the Chinese. In 2010, the number of hotel rooms in Korea was only 23,645.

“Although we are building more than 4,000 rooms, that is still insufficient to cover the increasing number of tourists,” said Jang Yeong-hwa, an official at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

“I will have 55 groups of Chinese tourists for the national holidays, but 25 of them will have to stay in accommodations in Gyeonggi,” said Lee Hyeong-geun, senior official at Huabang Tour. “When I informed some Chinese visitors that they would have to sleep in Gyeonggi, 15 percent of them cancelled their trips.”

“Seventy percent of our 500 Chinese customers will have to sleep in hotels in Gyeonggi for the holidays,” an official at the Naeil Tour said. “If they want to stay in a hotel in Seoul, they have to reserve three months ahead.”

Another travel agent in Seoul said, “Some tourists complained, saying they would prefer to stay at an expensive hotel, about 150,000 won [$130]per night, [rather than staying in Gyeonggi] because they are not ‘cheap.’”

Tourism officials say that about 30,000 out of the 70,000 Chinese arriving in Seoul this week will have to stay in Gyeonggi because hotels in Seoul are almost full.

A 52-year-old man who runs a restaurant in Tianjin, China, told the JoongAng Ilbo he won’t ever stay in Gyeonggi again.

“On our last tour, the day’s activities ended at 7 p.m. in Seoul because we had to get to our hotel in Gyeonggi, which took about 2 hours from central Seoul,” he said. “I don’t want to have that kind of trip again. If I visit Korea again, I will stay in a five-star hotel.”

“When I arrived in the accommodation [in Gyeonggi],” said a 38-year-old tourist from Dalian, northeastern China, “There were bars and karaoke places around it that were noisy until late at night. My excitement about coming to Korea fizzled away.”

According to a recent survey conducted by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 39.1 percent of Chinese tourists complained about Korea’s poor accommodations, followed by 18.7 percent who were dissatisfied with the food. Lack of Chinese language services bothered 16.1 percent of respondents and 10.9 percent said Korea didn’t have many tourist attractions.

When it came to the quality of service in accommodations, 66.3 percent said that they weren’t offered a “normal level of service” in Korean hotels.

In an effort to accommodate the rising number of foreign tourists, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is encouraging new hotels or conversions of other buildings into hotels.

Hotel officials in Seoul say that building hotels that specifically cater to tourists from places like China is needed.

“We have to figure out how to invent a style of service for Chinese,” said Wouter Banning, general manager of Fraser Place, a hotel that also has serviced apartments in central Seoul. “Instead of carpets, I laid down oriental-style wooden floors and adopted modern-designed rooms. Then I found the number of Chinese tourists visiting our hotel increased.”

In Samcheong-dong, central Seoul, a Korean-style bed and breakfast called 126 Mansion is also wooing Chinese tourists. Although its rates run from 80,000 won to 140,000 won per night, foreigners are attracted by the Korean floor heating system, ondol, and the owner’s homemade dishes.

“Along with Westerners, Chinese tourists living in Beijing or Shanghai also visit our bed and breakfast,” the owner said.

Choe Yeong-su, president of Lamid Hotel Academy, said, “Although the late President Park Chung Hee put many restrictions on overall society, he lifted those for hotel business. Following his lead, we need to get out of the mentality that hotels are only for rich people and should be restricted by heavy taxes.”

And yet, to build a hotel in Korea requires approvals from 72 government offices, Choe said. “The hotel business in Korea is regarded as a luxury business, so special taxes are charged.”

An expert who requested anonymity said, “To really get a return on your investment in a hotel in Korea, an owner should run it for 30 years, which makes people hesitant to jump into the business. The government’s restrictions on the hotel business are too heavy, so no one can easily decide to build a hotel in Korea.”

Choi Chang-sik, head of Jung District Office, central Seoul, said he is now putting all his efforts into getting more mid- or low-priced hotels of good quality in downtown Seoul for foreign tourists.

“Currently, five hotels are under construction in the district,” Choi said. “And two or three shopping malls are also planning to convert themselves into hotels.”

“To woo tourists, we need to come up with things for them to do, not just build hotels,” he said. “We are now planning 15 tourist attractions in the district, especially focusing on historic places related to the late president Park Chung Hee, because Chinese tourists are mostly interested in his life. In Jung District, there is Park’s old house, but it still hasn’t been developed.”

Choi urged the central government to do something to keep the Chinese flocking to Seoul.

“The central government shouldn’t miss this moment, when the number of Chinese tourists is exploding,” Choi said. “Emergency meetings to discuss boosting tourism, which are now held irregularly, should take place regularly. If ex-president Park were still alive, he would concentrate on how to boost the tourism industry.”


By Special Reporting Team [heejin@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

일본인보다 씀씀이 큰 요우커 … “경기도서 묵는다 하면 15% 여행 취소”

서울 객실 2만 개 부족 … “도심 밖 중저가 호텔 집중 건설해야”
호텔 춘추전국 시대 열자

지난달 한국을 찾은 쑨카이(孫凱·51)씨는 “돈 쓸 데가 없다”고 볼멘소리를 냈다. 좋은 호텔에 묵으려 해도 방이 없으니 돈이 있어봐야 소용이 없다. 그렇다고 살 것도 마땅치 않다. 고민 끝에 쑨씨는 홍삼과 김만 샀다.

 개별관광(FIT) 요우커가 폭발적으로 늘어났지만 한국 관광에 대한 만족도는 이처럼 낮다. 요우커의 만족도는 3.87점으로 홍콩(4.08), 마카오(4.07)보다 뒤처진다. FIT로 흐름이 바뀌고 있는데도 여전히 단체관광에만 초점을 맞춘 탓이다.

 ◆‘호텔 춘추전국시대’ 열자=2001년 532만 명이었던 외국 관광객 수는 지난해 879만 명으로 65% 늘었다. 같은 기간 호텔 객실 수는 7만4766개로, 35.02% 증가에 그쳤다. 서울이 특히 심하다. 지난해 말 객실 수는 2만3645개로, 관광객 수 대비 적정규모인 4만 개에 못 미친다. 문화체육관광부 관광정책과 장영화 사무관은 “건설 중인 객실 4000개로는 객실난을 덜기 어렵다”고 말했다. 전문가들은 “도심을 제외한 서울 지역에 중저가 호텔을 집중적으로 건설하자”고 제안한다.

 FIT를 사로잡을 수 있는 맞춤형 숙소도 필요하다. 중구 서소문의 레지던스 호텔인 프레이저 플레이스의 바우터 배닝 총지배인은 “카펫 대신에 나무장판을 깔고 현대적 디자인을 객실에 도입한 뒤부터 중국인 투숙객이 늘었다”며 “중국인에 맞는 스타일을 고민해야 한다”고 주문했다.

 이노스텔(모텔을 개조한 관광호텔)이나 B&B(숙박과 아침식사)를 제공하는 게스트하우스 등 다양한 중·저가 숙소를 개발하는 것도 FIT 요우커를 끄는 데 긴요하다. 중국관광 전문가들은 “다양한 형태의 호텔이 병존하는, 호텔의 춘추전국시대를 열어야 한다”고 촉구했다. 호수영 한국관광공사 중국팀 차장은 “한국적 삶을 맛볼 수 있는 게스트하우스가 있지만 중국인들은 언어 문제로 이용하지 못한다”며 “요우커를 위한 민박은 없다고 보면 된다”고 지적했다.

 ◆신개념 숙소가 뜬다=서울 삼청동의 ‘126 맨션’은 전형적인 B&B(Bed & Breakfast)다. B&B는 잠자리와 아침식사를 제공한다. 126 맨션엔 8월부터 빈방 찾기가 어렵다. 일본, 유럽, 미국의 관광객이 끊이지 않는다. 주인 이현정씨는 “상하이나 베이징에 거주하는 외국인들도 많이 찾는다”고 귀띔한다.

 투숙객들의 만족도는 최상급이다. 우선 정갈한 한국식 온돌방에 감탄한다. 고향집에 온 것 같은 푸근함도 한몫한다. 예술적인 디자인과 삼청동의 수려한 환경도 이들을 사로잡는다. 이 집 노모가 차려주는 웰빙 아침식사는 단연 인기다. 투숙객들은 연신 “원더풀!”을 외친다.

 추정림씨의 2층짜리 일원동 단독주택에도 외국인이 끊이질 않는다. 최근엔 미국 워싱턴에 사는 중국인 가족 3명이 일주일간 묵고 갔다. 추씨는 방 2개에 화장실과 주방이 딸린 2층을 빌려주고 1인당 매일 5만원을 받는다. 추씨는 “소일삼아 하는데도 한 달에 150만원 정도 번다”고 말했다.

 한국관광공사도 한국형 B&B 사업인 ‘코리아 스테이(Korea Stay)’를 추진 중이다. 가정문화를 체험하는 홈스테이와 B&B 유형으로 구분돼 운영된다. B&B 시장이 급성장한 것은 외국인 관광객을 수용할 만큼 숙박 시설이 충분하지 못하기 때문이다. 지난달 서울 롯데호텔의 객실 점유율은 88%다. 다른 호텔도 비슷하다. 저렴한 관광호텔도 85~90% 정도다.

 ◆관광호텔 규제 풀어야=최영수(56) 라미드 호텔전문학교 학장은 “박 전 대통령은 사회적 규제는 늘렸지만 호텔에 대한 규제만은 상당히 완화했다”며 “호텔은 가진 자들만 이용하는 곳이니 세금 왕창 매기고 규제만 하면 된다는 발상에서 벗어나야 한다”고 주문했다. 최 학장은 “규제를 풀었다고 하지만 관광호텔 하나 만들려면 여전히 72개의 도장이 필요하다”며 “게다가 사치산업이라는 이유로 특소세까지 물린다”고 지적했다.

 이중 허가도 문제다. 일반숙박업소인 모텔이나 여관은 허가를 한 번만 받으면 끝나지만 관광호텔은 이 외에도 관광진흥법이 정하는 각종 허가를 또 받아야 한다. 익명을 요구한 한 호텔 전문가는 “호텔업의 투자회수 기간은 30년이다. 그만큼 어렵다. 그런데도 각종 규제가 발목을 잡고 있으니 쉽게 관광호텔을 지을 생각을 못 한다”고 말했다.

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