SEOUL, Apr. 13 (Korea Bizwire) — The government unveiled a string of measures Wednesday to help the ailing local tourism industry overcome the sharp decline in Chinese visitors in the face of a diplomatic standoff between South Korea and China over a U.S. anti-missile system.
The local tourism industry is battered by Beijing’s apparent retaliation against South Korea for the planned deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) on its soil.
Since March 15, China has banned travel agencies there from selling travel packages to Korea, with its cruises no longer making stopovers at Korean ports.
The trip ban has slashed inbound Chinese tourists by 63.6 percent on-year to about 520,000 as of April 9, according to the latest data by the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). Given the current pace, the state tourism body expects this year’s total number of Chinese visitors will be more than halved to less than 4 million.
“Korea has been a favorite destination for Chinese tourists as much as we’ve highly depended on them, because (Korea) is such an attractive market in terms of price and distance,” KTO President Jung Chang-soo told a press briefing. “We plan to act strategically and be as flexible as possible to ensure that our tourism industry becomes vibrant again.”
In an all-out effort to stave off the fallout, the KTO vowed to overhaul its strategies with a focus on securing tourists from countries other than China, while luring more individual travelers as opposed to groups on package tours that had accounted for the bulk of inbound Chinese tourists.
It plans to raise the budget for developing tour programs tailored to Japanese and Muslims, promoting getaways and relaxation content through online blogs and social network services (SNS) as part of the attractions.
For those from Southeast Asia and the Middle East, the KTO will bolster its steps with the local food service industry to increase Muslim-friendly restaurants that will serve halal dishes, it said.
The state tourism body has set its annual target for non-Chinese tourists at 11.2 million in 2017, up from 9.17 million recorded the previous year.
It, however, ruled out the possibility that China may become a peripheral market for Korea given the frayed relationship at present.
“China accounts for 10 percent of the world’s outbound (tourism) market. We cannot afford to see ties cut off because of the current circumstances. We’re working to maintain a good relationship on both public and private levels,” Chang said.
The KTO will also set up a mobile platform this year that comes with Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Artificial Reality (AR) functions to assist individual tourists with directions and language translation.
Aside from that, the KTO is planning to boost cooperation with regional governments to promote in-country travels for locals through discounts and other benefits, believing that diverting certain outbound to inbound demand will come as fresh momentum for local tourism, it added.
As of end-February, a cumulative 4.57 million Koreans went abroad for vacation, up 14.7 percent from a year earlier, according to the KTO.