How to attract Chinese tourists
But there are also claims that the number actually increased compared to last year. During the first four days of Lunar New Year from Jan. 27 to 30, about 100,000 Chinese tourists entered Korea, according to the Korea Tourism Corporation, 8 percent more than the 92,000 who came during the first four days of last year’s holiday from Feb. 7 to 10.
But if we were to compare the same set of dates — Jan. 27 to 30 — there were 5 percent fewer Chinese tourists this year compared to the 105,000 who visited last year. Merchants might feel this difference more sensitively.
Tourism authorities argue that even if the number of Chinese visitors decreased, Thaad was not the sole cause. As China’s economy remains sluggish and the Chinese yuan weak, tourism has stayed flat, and competition has increased around the world for Chinese vacationers. Morocco, Tunisia, Tonga and Russia recently exempted or eased visa requirements. Depending on where Chinese tourists are headed, the country’s GDP changes. In 2015, 120 million Chinese traveled abroad and spent $104.5 billion. The China National Tourist Office estimates that by 2020, 200 million will travel abroad.
The global tourism industry is focused on the changing travel patterns of wealthy Chinese. High earners with household income of more than 200,000 yuan ($29,349) said they prefer experiences over shopping in a survey conducted by Agility in 2016. When asked what they wanted to do at different destinations, they said experiencing local cuisine and enjoying natural scenery. Shopping came in third.
This is where Korea, as a duty-free shopping mecca, is losing its competitive edge. Top destinations last year were Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul, but this year, Chinese travelers said they want to visit the Maldives, Paris and Tokyo. The generation born in the 1980s and 1990s is even more adventurous and listed countries like Morocco, Bhutan and Mexico.
When choosing a destination, the most important criteria were safety (18 percent) and historic remains (14 percent). Safety includes not just protection from terrorism and natural disasters but also health. The MERS outbreak in 2015 and this year’s bird flu could have been factors that made Chinese travelers reluctant to choose Korea. The country fell from fifth in 2014 to eighth in 2015 on Hotels.com’s Chinese website. Nevertheless, Korea’s advantage remains its geographical closeness. The tourism industry needs to approach Chinese tourists more strategically to secure a rightful stake.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 2, Page 30
*The author is deputy editor of lifestyle news at the JoongAng Ilbo.