Luring Chinese touristsChinese tourists replaced the Japanese as the top foreign visitors to South Korea last year for the first time. A total of 3.92 million Chinese travelers came to Korea last year, compared with 2.72 million Japanese people. Until last year, Japan had never lost its top spot since the immigration office began compiling data in 1961.
Top tourism destinations like Seoul, Jeju, Mount Seorak and the eastern coastal regions are enjoying better times thanks to the surge of Chinese visitors. Chinese women do their hair in Korean beauty salons and shop in downtown Myeongdong and Gangnam. They are often seen parading through the posh neighborhoods of Apgujeong-dong, Cheongdam-dong and Sinsa-dong in southern Seoul and in hotbed areas known for their cosmetic surgery clinics.
But whether the Chinese tourists will continue to flow into the nation remains uncertain. Around 64 percent of Japanese tourists revisited Korea, while the ratio is 29 percent for the Chinese.
In order to lure in the Chinese, the local tourism industry and other sectors must study more about their habits and develop customized programs. They must seek out what they like instead of what we think they like. Chinese authorities banned cheap group tourism packages in October last year amid mounting complaints about the tourists. The Chinese would now prefer to come individually instead of in groups. The industry should tailor high-end programs to meet their needs.
Instead of merely resorting to sightseeing and shopping, the industry should join up with other service sectors to develop tourism programs that Koreans are popular for, such as entertainment, fashion, beauty, food and spa packages or other healing experiences. Of an average $2,300 a Chinese resident spent in Korea, $1,400 has been spent to purchase goods from Korea. The consumer industry should be better prepared to entice and greet Chinese visitors. More high-end tourism and shopping programs should be developed in order to meet the growing sophisticated taste of wealthy Chinese tourists. Authorities from various offices should join in to develop new products and marketing strategies targeting the Chinese.
Korea now has become one of the favorite overseas destinations for Chinese tourists. This year, Korea will see more than four million Chinese visitors. It could be an opportunity and a challenge for our services industry. Tourism is also the best civilian-level diplomatic means to improve the image and reputation of our country and its people. The government and the private sector should join forces to make most of the momentum.