SEOUL, Nov. 9 (Korea Bizwire) – Expectations are running high ahead of a presidential summit between South Korea and China that China’s months-long economic retaliation over the politically charged THAAD anti-missile systems might be finally coming to an end.
It was the agreement between foreign ministers from both countries last month to recover and improve the South Korea-China relations that marked a real sense of change in the air, prompting the South Korean media to speculate on a shift in the tourism industry.
South Korean ambassador to China Noh Young-min is also expected to visit Northeast China sometime next week, a region with a large population of Chinese of Korean descent where South Korean companies have been hit hard by China’s economic retaliation.
Noh’s visit, following the foreign ministers’ agreement to improve diplomatic relations, is being seen as a move that could mark the end of the political tensions between the two countries over the deployment of American THAAD systems on South Korean soil.
With Noh scheduled to discuss North Korea with local government leaders, the South Korean tourism industry is welcoming the accelerating effort by the two countries to mend the political divide.
Lotte Group, which has been at the center of the THAAD controversy, is hoping for a second chance in China after having suffered major losses as a result of the Sino-Korean diplomatic spat.
Though there is no change to the business suspension orders that were issued earlier in the year, Lotte Mart officials are hopeful.
“We are expecting visible changes soon, since there was an official announcement from the two countries,” an official from Lotte Shopping said. “There have been hard times from the loss of Chinese shoppers, but the expectation is that spring is finally coming.”
Last month, it was reported that Ctrip, China’s biggest travel agency, contacted Lotte Hotel for a possible business deal, fueling speculation that China’s ban on package group tours to South Korea might soon be lifted.
The government is also taking swift action to take advantage of the beginning of a new political thaw and get the tourism industry back on track, as the Ministry of Justice recently announced plans to allow visa-free entry to Chinese tourists traveling on certain cruise ships next year.
In addition, the electronic visa application fee discounts for Chinese tourist groups will continue into next year.
Travel agencies are also preparing to welcome back Chinese tourists, with some workers coming back to work in anticipation of the effect of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.
The rosy prospects for the tourism industry have also had an impact on the stock market, as shares of cosmetics companies, travel agencies and duty-free stores including Hana Tour, Hotel Shilla, and Tonymoly have increased over the last few days.
“China’s biggest online shopping event, November 11 ‘Singles Day’, is fast approaching. In the meantime, South Korean cosmetics companies, department stores, duty free shops and online shopping malls are ramping up their promotional efforts amid speculation that THAAD retaliation will be eased. These developments are expected to improve the investment sentiment among Chinese consumers,” Kim Byeong-yeon, a researcher at NH Investment and Securities said.
However, some say it’s too early to tell whether the THAAD retaliation is actually coming to an end.
“As the Chinese government has yet to lift a ban on tour packages to South Korea, we are just waiting at the moment,” one travel agency official said.
While others expect that the group tour ban could be lifted after the presidential summit this weekend, industry sources believe it will take a minimum of three months to start seeing more Chinese tourists in South Korea.
In response, Culture Minister Do Jong-hwan has promised to introduce measures to help get tourism between the two countries get back on track as soon as possible.
Hyunsu Yim (email@example.com)