Dokdo dispute puts industries on edge

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Dokdo dispute puts industries on edge

Domestic industries are showing signs of tension due to the ongoing conflict between Korea and Japan over the disputed Dokdo islets.

Companies on both sides of the East Sea are monitoring the situation closely as it could pose a threat to their business ties and affect exports and marketing strategies, even though there has not been any significant impact so far.

The most sensitive reactions are seen in the tourism and travel industry, as negative sentiment among the general public in both Korea and Japan could put a damper on two-way tourism, which has been growing steadily.

Hana Tour, one of the country’s biggest travel agencies, said it has been closely monitoring the changes in tourism demand since last week in preparation for a prolonged political clash between the two countries.

According to the Korea Tourism Organization, 3.28 million Japanese travelers visited Korea last year, accounting for one-third of all visitors.

The number of Korean tourists visiting Japan dropped to 1.65 million last year due to the massive earthquake and tsunami that smashed the country in March, but was expected to recover to 2.5 million this year.

“We have not yet received any cancellation requests from Korean customers who booked package trips to Japan, but we’re not relaxing just yet as anti-Japan and anti-Korea sentiment could become even more extreme if the current tension continues,” said an employee at Hana Tour.

Asiana Airlines and other carriers are also keeping close tabs on the situation to see whether demand looks poised to shrink due to simmering hostility toward Korea.

But the companies said they have seen little impact so far, adding that tourism trends are generally immune to political disturbances.

The food industry has also been on alert for a possible boycott of Korean food products in Japan. Sources there expressed concern that robust sales of domestic staples such as red pepper paste, soybean paste, kimchi and makgeolli, or Korean traditional rice wine, could take a hit in the neighboring country if conservative Japanese right-wing organizations push for boycotts.

“Sales promotions and launch events of Korean products in Japan don’t seem to be generating as much of a buzz as before,” said an employee at Chongga Food, a food company that exports kimchi and hongcho, a kind of red vinegar, to Japan. “Even though we haven’t noticed any immediate change in sales so far, it’s better to prepare to all contingencies.”

Other companies were optimistic, saying that past political disputes exerted little influence on the consumers’ purchasing behavior.

“There has hardly been any impact on local sales in Japan. We’re not concerned enough to be discussing measures,” said an employee at LG Electronics.Department stores also seem little concerned as they increasingly target Chinese tourists rather than Japanese. “As foreign sales are concentrated more on Chinese tourists these days, the current diplomatic impasse will not upset the apple cart at domestic department stores,” said a sales manager at Lotte Department Store.

By Kim Jung-yoon []

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