INCHEON, Nov. 22 (Korea Bizwire) – The Port of Incheon, a major port on Korea’s western coastline, is seeing fewer visits from Chinese cruise ships, a disappointment for local officials who hoped that it would grow more popular with an increasing number of Chinese tourists.
According to the Incheon Port Authority, 18 cruise ships from China made port 63 times this year so far. Although the number is an increase from last year, it is far short of the IPA’s initial expectation of 18 cruise ships and 131 port entries for 2016.
Cruise ship entries to Incheon began picking up pace in 2007, steadily increasing in number until 2013, when the port welcomed 10 ships making 95 port calls. Visits began to drop following the sinking of the MV Sewol in 2014 and the MERS crisis in 2015 (14 ships, 53 entries).
Port officials point to the recent diplomatic quarrel between Korea and China over the THAAD battery deployment as another reason for the decline, a discord that is likely to persist for the foreseeable future.
The fact that Korean immigration procedures are more complicated compared to Japan has also pushed certain cruise lines to pick Japan as a destination instead, said officials.
“There are more than a few elements that affected our operations, but with recurring national crises, including the sinking of the Sewol and the MERS outbreak, we’ve had some disappointing numbers (in recent years),” said an IPA official.
Given the situation at hand, the number of ships arriving from China is likely to remain similar in 2017, with officials expecting 23 vessels to make 79 port entries. However, the circumstances are still unclear for the IPA, considering that the Chinese government just announced in October that it would restrict budget tourism packages (for all countries), and advised local travel agencies to lower the number of Korea-visiting tourists by 20 percent.
Nonetheless, port officials are hopeful visitor numbers will pick up in 2018, as they are expected to open an official cruise pier (150,000-ton) at the Songdo International Business District by the end of 2017. A tentative pier for 50,000-ton cruise ships will also open in February 2017, which is currently being used for car ferries.
“We need to attract more high-end cruise lines by diversifying tourism programs that visitors can enjoy in the city, instead of focusing solely on budget cruise tours,” the official added.
By Kevin Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)