Looking after Chinese visitors
Last week in Beijing, the Korean Cultural Service hosted an event celebrating the exchange of 10 million people between Korea and China. Last year, 6.13 million Chinese people visited Korea, and 4.18 million Koreans visited China. At this rate, 10 million Chinese visitors will come to Korea next year. But can this trend continue? While Korea hopes for it, China may be reluctant.
After a recent trip to Korea, a Chinese traveler in her 30s complained, “The Korean Wave and shopping were great, but the absence of a 7 Days Inn was inconvenient.” Along with Home Inns, the 7 Days Inn chain is China’s largest budget hotel chain. It operates 2,500 hotels in 300 cities across China. It has more than 80 million members. The chain provides a Chinese-style service for about 100,000 won ($91) per night, so it is the accommodation of choice for travelers under 30.
Not so long ago, a 7 Days Inn representative visited Korea and sought a partnership with businesses in the hospitality industry. But they were skeptical because the brand is unknown in Korea and thought there was no need for a partnership when there are so many Chinese tourists already. He thinks the Korean tourism industry does not realize that 66 percent of Chinese tourists visiting Korea are individual travelers under 30. He concluded that exchanging 10 million visitors would last only two or three years unless Korea changes its attitude.
Luxury hotels in Korea suffer from high vacancy rates as the number of Japanese tourists has decreased drastically. Meanwhile, budget and mid-range accommodations are in a great shortage.
“The Chinese tourism industry sees that 10 million is the maximum for the shopping and sightseeing in the top three destinations, Seoul, Jeju and Busan, and if more tourists come, they should go to other regions, although they lack infrastructures,” said a Chinese travel agency CEO. “While the opening of the Honam high-speed railway would facilitate tourism in Gwangju and Jeonju, they lack accommodations and duty-free shops.”
“Charter train services for Chinese visitors could disperse them partially, but it is doubtful the Korean tourism industry would agree,” he proposed.
Chinese people also said that there is no “risk hedging” on their behalf. If the North Korean factor or the Thaad system hurts the Korea-China relationship, Chinese visitors will decrease, and Korea seems to have few plans to rectify this. As anti-China protests spread in Hong Kong, nearby Shenzhen has shortened visas for Hong Kong visits to once a week. While an exchange of 10 million people deserves celebration, it would be meaningful to have a forum addressing these issues.
*The author is a Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, April 14, Page 30
by CHOI HYUNG-KYU