As Golden Week travel hell descends upon the world, there is at least one place where one can go to get a bit of peace and quiet — South Korea.
While it was Chinese tourists’ top travel destination last Golden Week, South Korea now does not even make the top 20, according to a report from Ctrip about the 6 million mainland tourists heading abroad during this year’s week-long holiday. Compared to last year, the number of Chinese travelers heading to South Korea over the extended holiday period has plunged by an astonishing 70 percent, the report said.
This dramatic change has come about as China has punished South Korea for the installation of the US-backed THAAD missile defense system, which Beijing views as a threat to its own national security and Seoul sees as a necessity to guard against its nuclear-obsessed neighbor.
In March, Chinese travel agencies were banned from sending tour groups to South Korea and Chinese travel companies were pressured to cut down on flights and cruises between China and South Korea. 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.
Last year, over 100 Chinese tourists memorably spent their Golden Week holiday trapped inside the Jeju airport, denied entry to the island for not carrying with them hotel bookings and other travel documents.
That scene seems unlikely to repeat this year.
“There used to be 300 to 400 guides for Chinese tourists on the island, but now there are no more than 50,” Park Jung-kwan, a 39-year-old Chinese native who migrated to Jeju to work as a tour guide and driver, told the South China Morning Post. “Chinese are too embarrassed to come to South Korea.”
This comes as a bit of good news for Jeju island residents who prefer a more peaceful life. Back in 2008, Jeju island implemented a 30-day, visa-free policy for Chinese tourists which turned the tiny island into a Chinese tourism gold mine. In 2016, the island received a record 3.1 million Chinese tourists, which accounted for about 90% of its total visitors from abroad.
But waves of Chinese tourists also led to an increase in crime and uncivilized behavior which alarmed locals. Last September, more than 11,000 of them signed a petition calling for an end to visa-free entry for Chinese tourists. While the government refused to consider ending the policy, it seems that they may now have got what they wanted — at the expense of the local economy.
China’s crackdown on South Korean tourism caused the number of Chinese tourists visiting the country to plummet by 40 percent in March, dealing the country’s tourism industry a heavy blow. Hardest hit were the duty-free shops which rely heavily on deep-pocketed Chinese tourists for 70% of their business.
South Korea’s loss has been Thailand’s gain as the country now sits at the top of Chinese tourists’ Golden Week travel destinations, followed by Japan and Singapore.
[Images via National Business Daily]
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