Grief is having effect on shopping, travel plansMr. Kim, a member of a well-known rock band, has been in grief just like the rest of the nation since the Sewol ferry carrying 476 passengers capsized a week ago today in the waters off Jindo, South Jeolla. While rescue work continues to find missing passengers, Kim, who considers himself a public figure, said he has troubles on his mind.
“I attended a wedding ceremony recently, and I wasn’t sure if I should sing a festive song for the couple,” he said with a sigh. In the end, he congratulated the couple with a song, but he wondered if it was the right thing to do when the country is in mourning for the victims and their families.
He predicted that celebrities like himself will be under the pall of grief for the foreseeable future.
“There was an event that I was invited to attend in August,” Kim said. “It’s been put off for now.”
While emotions run high over the tragic ferry accident, the impact on local businesses is starting to be felt. Big and small companies are canceling marketing or promotional events that may strike the public as too frivolous in the wake of the disaster, and individuals like entertainers and travelers are also changing their business plans, raising concerns over a possible dent in the economy.
With the situation only worsening in Jindo - no survivor has been reported since the day of the accident, when 174 passengers were rescued - the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education announced last Friday that all schools in the area, including elementary schools, will delay or cancel field trips and outdoor activities planned in the first semester “until separate safety measures are devised.”
Many of the victims on the Sewol were students from Danwon High School in Ansan, Gyeonggi, who were on their way to a four-day field trip to Jeju Island. They departed from Incheon.
Similar announcements have been made by schools in other regions outside Gyeonggi.
With schools canceling field trips, travel agencies, leisure companies, hotels and guesthouses are struggling. Many outings and events organized by government officials for the spring have also been canceled after they went into “silent” mode because President Park Geun-hye reprimanded civil servants for their poor management of the sinking.
According to the Korea Tourism Organization, more than 50 percent of group travel package reservations have been canceled through several travel agencies based in Seoul as of last Friday.
In particular, packages heading to or stopping over at Jeju Island, Jindo or Mokpo, which is also in South Jeolla, have almost all been canceled.
“We haven’t compiled the latest data since last Friday,” said an official from the association. “We’re concerned that the domestic tourism industry will be directly hit by many cancellations.”
Hana Tour, the country’s largest travel agency, reports that around 1,700 people canceled trips within the country over the weekend.
Travelers are definitely frightened of ferries because of safety.
“Almost all reservations for school field trips and travel packages going to Japan by ferry have been canceled,” said an official from the agency.
“Normally for us, it’s a busy time of the year as we prepare for events celebrating Children’s Day and Mother’s Day,” said an official from a local hotel.
“[After the accident] however, we have stopped all promotional activities. The situation is even more grave in terms of business at hotels in Jeju, where the Sewol and its passengers were heading for.”
An official from a financial institution said he’s worried that if the shock continues too long it could hurt economic growth.
The retail industry has also been affected. Although department stores and large discount stores remained open, they weren’t as crowded as usual.
Ms. Kim, a 38-year-old office worker, had planned to go shopping last Sunday, the last day of the spring sales season. She received a text message earlier in the week from one of her favorite apparel brands saying that certain items were being sold at half price. Kim, however, did not go outside that day, feeling a bit gloomy thinking about the accident.
“I wasn’t in the mood to go to a department store,” she said. “I just spent the weekend watching the news.”
With fewer shoppers in department stores, sales were affected. According to Hyundai Department Store, sales at all its branches from Wednesday to Sunday dropped 1.2 percent compared to the same period last year. Sales at Lotte Department Stores fell 1.6 percent from Friday to Sunday compared to last year.
“It’s very rare that sales have drops during last-minute sales season,” said an official from a department store. “There was also an impact from department stores as they tried to tone down their marketing activities after the accident.”
Home-shopping companies also saw sales drop. For example, sales for CJ O Shopping during the weekend fell 20 percent from the previous year.
And consumers turned away from buying electronic goods. LG Electronics said that over the weekend the number of customers visiting its Best Shop stores fell 15 percent from the previous year.
Local restaurants and pubs are also being affected. A recent visit was made by a JoongAng Ilbo reporter to a pub in Bukchang-dong, central Seoul, and the place was empty, a very different scene from more than a week ago.
“All reservations this week have been canceled,” said the owner. “Although I’m worried about financial matters, it’s nothing when you think of how those students had to sacrifice their lives due to the accident.”
Namdaemun Market in central Seoul, normally vibrant with the calls of merchants trying to sell their items, was also very quiet. Without tourists from China and Japan, there would have been hardly any customers in its lanes.
“I’m concerned that the number of visitors to the market will keep going down,” said Lim Young-soon, a 52-year-old merchant who has been selling women’s apparel for the past 15 years. “But there’s no one to blame for this. I just wish we get to hear good news from Jindo.”
Kim Kyung-soo, an economics professor at Sungkyunkwan University, said, “What we’re seeing now in the country is that without safety guarantees and trust in the government, the economy also loses its way.”
Although the government is aware of a possible slowing down of the economy after the tragedy, its focus is on managing the crisis. The government has canceled its regular economy-related ministerial meeting and external economy ministerial meetings scheduled for today and tomorrow.
On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok ordered senior ministry officials to make sure they “swiftly provide financial and tax support to Ansan City and Jindo County.” He added, “While putting out efforts into manage the crisis, I advise you to look into economy-related matters and policies as well.”
BY Kim Young-hoon, Lee Eun-joo [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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