May 24, 2024
Foreigners in Myeong-dong, international tourists’ top destination in Seoul, on April 30, 2024 (By Bum-June Kim)

South Korean retailers and hotels are enjoying a boom thanks to an expected surge in tourists at home and abroad as more than 180,000 foreigners are expected to visit the country due to the early May holidays across North Asia.

Japan is already in its Golden Week holiday this week, while China’s five-day Labor Day holiday starts on Wednesday. South Korea has a long weekend this week with a substitute public holiday on May 6.

About 100,000 Japanese tourists and 80,000 Chinese visitors are predicted to come to South Korea, respectively, from April 27 to May 6, according to the country’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Tuesday.

Hotels and casinos are key beneficiaries of the boom. Hotels in Jeju island, South Korea’s top resort, are already fully booked with Grand Hyatt Jeju reporting 11,890 room reservations from April 27 to May 5, the most since its opening.

“It is the best boom since COVID-19. It looks like another wave of Chinese tourists is coming,” said an official at a Jeju hotel.

Lotte Hotel Seoul, located in foreign tourists’ must-visit Myeong-dong, enjoyed reservation rates of more than 80% during the period, although room rates were up to 120,000 won ($86.8) higher per night than usual.

Seoul was among the top five Asian travel destinations along with Tokyo, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Taipei during the holidays in early May, according to Trip.com Group, one of the world’s largest online travel agencies headquartered in Singapore.

“Chinese tourists kept coming with flights between China and Korea sold out during the holidays,” said a source in the South Korean tourism industry. “That compared with the Chinese New Year holiday’s earlier this year when the industry failed to enjoy a boom because it was too early to feel the impact of China’s measures to lift the restriction on group tourists (to South Korea).”

CASINOS

Yeongjong Island, near South Korea’s main gateway Incheon International Airport, also benefited from the increase in Chinese and Japanese tourists as the island is home to a number of casinos for foreigners.

Paradise City, a resort operated by a major casino operator Paradise Co., logged higher than 90% room reservation rates during this week with half of them foreigners.

“Many big casino players from Japan are coming,” said a Paradise City official. “Suite rooms and pool villas that cost 10 million to 20 million won per night have been fully booked by foreigners.”

Rooms at Mohegan Inspire, which has recently opened a casino on the island, have also sold out.

Casino at Mohegan Inspire on Yeongjong Island (File photo, courtesy of News1)

DEPARTMENT STORES, DUTY-FREE SHOPS

Retailers aimed to attract foreign tourists with various promotions.

Lotte Department Store, South Korea’s largest shopping mall operator, kicked of a sales festival April 27, the start of Japan’s Golden Week, around its main branch in Myeong-dong. That doubled foreigners’ credit card payments in the latst one week at the branch from a year earlier.

Sales to foreigners at the Hyundai Seoul, a must-visit for young foreigners, and Shinsegae Inc.’s department main store surged by 785.4% and 309%, respectively, during the period.

Duty-free shops, which had been struggling to recover due to a lack of Chinese tourists, launched promotions to lure international visitors.

Lotte Duty Free is offering various benefits to individual foreign tourists at offline stores until May 12, for example. The leading South Korean duty-free shop operator offers free gifts in accordance to the amount spent on its digital payment system LDF Pay starting at values of 10,000 won, which can be used only for purchases of South Korean beauty and fashion products. It also supports cosmetics shoppers with benefits worth as much 70,000 won.

SUSTAINABLE RECOVERY?

The South Korean tourism industry is keeping an eye on whether the boom is sustainable since tourists from China and Japan are key to the sector’s recovery.

The number of visitors from China totaled 1 million in the first quarter, more than seven times a year ago, while the number of Japanese tourists nearly doubled over the same period to 665,893, according to the Korea Tourism Organization. They were still only 76.1% and 83.8%, respectively, of the numbers in 2019 before the outbreak of COVID-19.

Chinese and Japanese tourists are expected to be crucial in reaching the South Korean government’s target 20 million tourists from other countries, analysts said. Visitors from these neighbors accounted for 53% of total tourists in 2019.

“Many tourists from new markets such as Southeast Asia and the Americas are coming, but it is more important to recover visitors from China and Japan,” another tourism industry official said.

Write to Sun A Lee at [email protected]
 
Jongwoo Cheon edited this article.


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