Korea welcomes back prodigal Chinese tourists

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Korea welcomes back prodigal Chinese tourists

The first group of Chinese tourists is expected to land in Korea today, less than a week after Beijing partially lifted a ban on package tours.

They should be a shot in the arm to the tourism, restaurant and retail industries, which missed them and their free-spending ways.

According to Asiana Airlines Friday, a group tour of 32 Chinese will arrive at Incheon International Airport today from Beijing. This is the first arrival since Beijing cracked down on group tours to Korea in March to retaliate for Seoul’s deployment of a U.S. antimissile system.

Another group of 30 tourists will arrive by cruise ship at Incheon Port on Friday. They will have a two-night, three-day tour around Seoul and Incheon.

New Huacheng, one of the leading agencies in Korea handling incoming tourists from abroad, said reservations for group tours in December are already healthy.

“We have 20 groups and 600 people reserved only this month alone,” a spokesman for the agency said. “We are negotiating with travel agencies in Beijing and Shandong to set the schedule for next month as well.”

An influx of Chinese tourists should be helped by the Korean government’s decision to allow no-visa entry for Chinese from December to the end of March in its attempt to boost tourism and to support the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The Ministry of Justice announced last month that it will allow Chinese to stay in Korea for up to 15 days without visas if they meet certain requirements.

The retail and tourism industry are upbeat.

Entas, the only duty-free store in Incheon, experienced a 30 percent decline in sales after Chinese tourists stopped coming.

“Things will be different next year,” an official at Entas said.

Encore, the only duty-free store in Gyeonggi, is similarly optimistic. “We expect sales growth soon,” a spokesman said.

Restaurateurs in Incheon are welcoming the visitors.

“There were a lot of eateries here that closed their doors either for good or temporarily after the Chinese tourists stopped coming,” said the owner of a restaurant near Incheon Port. “I feel relieved that the ban was finally lifted.”

Doo Hyun-soo, manager of the Holiday Inn branch in Incheon’s Songdo district, says the influx of Chinese tourists will help the accommodation industry as a whole.

“We were hit the hardest by the cancellation of banquet reservations by Chinese corporations early this year,” Doo said. “Chinese companies’ visits to Korea will increase as well.”

In China, local travel agencies are working hard to offer trips to Korea.

“The ban has been lifted for only Beijing and Shandong,” said an official at one of the agencies that handle Chinese tourists coming to Korea. “They don’t account for the majority of Chinese tourists coming to Korea. We shouldn’t have exaggerated expectations.”

BY LIM MYOUNG-SOO AND KIM MIN-WOOK [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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