Tourists from China rebounding
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on Sunday, the number of people that took either an international flight into or out of Korea or a domestic flight in October totaled 10 million, a 6.8 percent increase compared to the same month a year ago. It said it was the largest number of flight passengers recorded in any October.
While domestic flight passengers dropped 5 percent compared to the previous year to 2.72 million, international flight passengers grew by 12 percent to 7.34 million passengers.
In the first 10 months of this year, passengers on flights in or out of Korea amounted to 71.4 million, up 12 percent from 63.6 million a year earlier.
“International flight passengers grew in October largely due to the expansion of budget airlines’ international flights as well as the long holiday that helped Koreans travel abroad and China partially allowing group tours to Korea,” a Land and Transport Ministry official said.
In October, some 1.48 million people traveled to Korea from China or the reverse, which was a 23 percent increase. This was largely thanks to an easing of group travel ban that was imposed by the Chinese government to protest the deployment of the terminal high altitude area defense (Thaad) system in Sangju, North Gyeongsang.
Despite the recent rise in Chinese tourists, it is still 12.7 percent smaller than the 1.7 million that visited in October 2016 before the Thaad situation escalated between the two countries.
The ministry said the situation has been improving since July.
The number of Chinese Jeju grew 99.6 percent in October. The number of Chinese traveling in or out of Cheongju, North Chungcheong, surged 101.5 percent.
Travelers from other countries have grown as well, including Europe, which grew 15.4 percent, and Southeast Asia, up 11.6 percent. Passengers from Japan were up 8 percent.
Passengers traveling from the Pacific decline in October. Travelers from New Zealand were down 17.6 percent to 8,682 while those from Hawaii fell 18.2 percent to 46,398.
Among foreign countries, Southeast Asian travelers accounted for the most, taking up 34 percent, followed by Japan with 24 percent. Chinese tourists accounted for 20.2 percent.
The increase in travelers owes much to budget airlines expanding flights and routes.
People traveling on budget airlines grew 19.6 percent while those that used major Korean airliners - Korean Air and Asiana - increased 6.4 percent.
As of October, budget airlines carried 28.6 percent of all passengers, up from 26.7 percent a year ago and 21 percent in 2016. On the flip side, passengers using the two major Korean airliners shrunk to 39.2 percent of the total as of October this year compared to 41.3 percent a year ago and 44.3 percent in 2016.
BY LEE HO-JEONG [firstname.lastname@example.org]