SEOUL, May 11 (Korea Bizwire) – The trade deficit in South Korea’s tourism industry rose to a record high for the past decade in the first quarter, due largely to a void in Chinese visitors following the ban of Korea-bound trip sales by Beijing from mid-March, industry and central bank data showed Thursday.
The figure stood at US$3.74 billion as of the end of March, the largest amount since $3.76 billion recorded in the fourth quarter of 2007, according to data by the tourism industry and the Bank of Korea (BOK).
The deficit came to $1.35 billion for March alone, the biggest amount in almost two years after the country logged some $1.47 billion in travel deficit for July 2015 in the wake of the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that slashed the number of inbound tourists, the data showed.
The record-high deficit is attributable to a steep decline in Chinese tourists to South Korea, triggered by Beijing’s hostile policy in diplomatic retribution for the deployment of U.S. anti-missile system, known as THAAD, on the Korean Peninsula, in spite of China’s strong objection.
Since March 15, Chinese travel agencies have been forbidden to sell South Korea-related tour programs to locals, among a string of other measures put forward by Beijing against Korean companies and their goods.
The number of outbound travelers in South Korea, in contrast, posted a consistent gain over the first three months of this year to record 6.51 million, compared to 3.7 million of foreigners who came into the country in the same period.
Industry watchers forecast that the balance in the country’s tourism account will likely run in the red for the first half, given that Beijing isn’t expected to ease the trip ban to Korea any time soon.
In March, the tourist inflow from China plunged 40 percent from a year earlier to 360,782, while outbound travelers jumped 23.7 percent on-year to 1.94 million, the Korea Tourism Organization said last month.
The week-long holiday that came during the first week of May is cited as another factor that will likely widen the tourism deficit in the second quarter. According to the Incheon International Airport Corp., over 2 million travelers accessed the airport from April 28-May 9.