Attracting Chinese tourists to Korea

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Attracting Chinese tourists to Korea

Do the Chinese like visiting Korea? Last year, a record-breaking six million Chinese tourists came here, so you’d think so. The incoming Chinese visitors triggered 18.6 trillion won in production, which is equivalent to the export of 700,000 Hyundai Motors vehicles. Distribution industry insiders say their businesses depend on the Chinese visitors.

But the problem is that Chinese travelers’ interest in Korea looks like it could cool down anytime. According to a recent survey by the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, this demographic’s satisfaction with their trip here ranked 14th among 16 countries surveyed. Their return visit rate was a mere 25.7 percent.

What is the cause of the paradox of increasing Chinese visitors and declining satisfaction?

According to Travelzoo, a large international travel resource provider, the keywords desired by Chinese tourists were rejuvenation and relaxation. When asked which country they like to visit the most, the second-largest number of people, or 31.4 percent, said the United States, followed by New Zealand at 26.8 percent and Australia at 25.6 percent. Surprisingly, their favorite destination was Japan, at 39.6 percent, despite anti-Japanese sentiment and the territorial dispute between the two nations.

The low yen trend certainly boosted the popularity of the country, but the exchange rate is not the only factor. Japan has already eased visa requirements and expanded duty-free shopping to attract Chinese visitors. Moreover, it has appealed to the Chinese by highlighting aspects of Japanese culture such as sushi and traditional Ryokan inns.

How does Korea compare? A travel industry insider said that travel agencies are competing fiercely and offer excessive commissions to Chinese travel agencies, and they can only make profits by forcing shopping or touring options.

There are many duty-free shops operating in Yeonnam-dong and Donggyo-dong in Mapo District, targeting Chinese tourists and offering low-quality selections. The Chinese visitors already know they are being ripped off; it is easy to find reviews online complaining about substandard experiences.

“We were only taken to the places with free admission, such as Cheonggyecheon, Gyeongbok Palace, Namsan and the War Memorial,” one tourist complained. “The tour guide cut costs by taking us to cheap motels and diners,” wrote another.

Visitors want a richer experience of Korea. Without cultural services, shopping is not enough to keep the tourists coming. Clean and reasonably priced accommodation and public transportation, as well as information services for travelers visiting without guides, are a must. The government and the tourism industry need to develop tourism resources such as traditional cultural experiences and local festivals.

During the Chinese New Year holiday last February, 450,000 Chinese tourists visited Japan - nearly four times more than the 120,000 visitors that came to Korea. Whether or not we can close the difference all depends on how we respond.

The author is a business news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, April 15, Page 29


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