As expected, South Korea’s tourism industry has been hit hard by the country’s ongoing conflict with China over the installation of the US-backed THAAD missile defense system with visitor numbers from its giant neighbor plunging by 40% in March.
Early that month, China began banning tourist agencies from sending tour groups to South Korea, causing flights and cruises between the two countries to be cut. In one particularly sensational incident, 3,400 Chinese tourists simply refused to set foot on South Korean soil after their cruise ship docked at the resort island of Jeju — once one of the world’s top destinations for Chinese tourists.
According to the latest statistics from the Korea Tourism Organization, only 360,000 Chinese tourists visited the country in March, compared to over 600,000 the year before. Overall, visitor numbers dropped by 11%.
Early estimates indicated that South Korea could lose $9.63 billion in tourism revenue as a result of the ban. Hardest hit will be the duty-free shops which rely on deep-pocketed Chinese tourists for 70% of their business. Back in February, the Jeju International Airport announced that it would hire more cleaning staff to deal with the insane amount of packaging that Chinese tourists were leaving behind from their duty-free purchases.
That may no longer be necessary.
To make up for those losses, the country’s tourism industry has tried reaching out more to Japan and Southeast Asia. While the number of Japanese tourists visiting South Korea picked up in March, they have since fallen back in April, the Yonhap news agency reported, blaming the drop on the continually escalating situation in North Korea.
In March, an opinion poll found that while the DPRK was still South Korean’s most hated country, China had passed Japan for the number two spot.
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