Busan mayor touts city in Beijing

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Busan mayor touts city in Beijing

The Chinese minister of culture and tourism told Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don last Thursday during a meeting in Beijing that he was working toward allowing “many Chinese” to visit Busan — and holding working-level discussions with a company in Shanghai to allow Chinese tour groups to travel to the Korean coastal city on cruise ships.

According to sources with knowledge of the discussion, Oh appeared to have received positive feedback from Chinese officials during his visit to Beijing last Thursday and Friday when he relayed plans to attract Chinese visitors to Busan, Korea’s second-largest city that’s located in the southeastern part of the country.

Noteworthy from the talks between Oh and China’s Minister of Culture and Tourism Luo Shugang was the Chinese official’s somewhat optimistic comment on the group tours to Korea on cruise ships, which Chinese tour agencies are effectively banned from providing.

Though Beijing has never formally admitted the ban, Chinese tour agencies are effectively not allowed to promote any group tour packages to Korea online or take customers to Korea on cruise ships or chartered planes, all of which Seoul sees as retaliation for Korea’s deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in 2017.

Seoul and Washington see the antimissile system as defensive in nature, to help deter possible missile threats from Pyongyang, but Beijing sees it as a threat to its national security interests and, in turn, carried out economic retaliatory measures targeting Korean businesses, entertainers and tourism.

When Busan Mayor Oh asked the Chinese tourism minister for help to revitalize a so-called Shanghai Street in his city, the Chinese official was said to have responded he would “convey the matter” to an official in Shanghai.

Nearly 4.8 million Chinese visited Korea last year in group tours, down by nearly half from 2016 when 8 million Chinese visited in groups, according to data from the Korea Tourism Organization. Yet from January to September this year, 4.4 million Chinese were tallied to have visited Korea in group tours, up about 27 percentage points from the same period last year.

As the figure appears to be slowly recovering, many local government offices in Korea have been eager to seize the chance to attract Chinese tourists to their respective areas.

Gyeonggi provincial government officials toured major Chinese travel agencies in Shanghai, Qingdao and Chengdu for a week last month to promote their tour packages, shedding light on locations in their province that have historical ties with China.

Late last month, the office of South Gyeongsang formed a so-called Gyeongnam Tourism Club composed of Chinese people who lived or studied in the southeastern Korean province, encouraging them to play the role of Korean cultural ambassadors in persuading their fellow countrymen to visit South Gyeongsang.

Incheon recently clinched an agreement with a Chinese food company to invite 8,000 workers for a six-day tour around Incheon next February. The Incheon Metropolitan Office said it was planning a program visiting major tourist attractions in Seoul and Gyeonggi.

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