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Chinese tourism plummets over Chuseok

Jeju Island hit by 87% drop as retaliation over Thaad continues
Oct 10,2017
The effect of China’s economic retaliation over the deployment of a U.S.-led antimissile defense system in Korea was visible in the drop in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Jeju Island over Chuseok, which fell by some 87 percent compared to last year.

“The streets have been empty for days here,” said a 37-year-old owner of a shop on Baojian Street in Jeju City on Saturday. “An accessories store nearby that used to cater to Chinese tourists went out of business weeks ago.”

“Ever since China lashed out with economic retaliations, we have made very little money off of tourists from China and we are just making ends meet through local visitors,” the shop owner continued.

A total of 11,222 Chinese travelers visited Jeju from Sept. 29 to Oct. 8, the extended Chuseok holiday, according to the Jeju Special Self-Governing Provincial Tourism Association.

An average of 1,122 Chinese visited the island every day during the holiday, whereas an average of 8,828 Chinese tourists visited the island per day during last year’s Chuseok holiday.

The average number of Chinese tourists per day during the holiday season has dropped by 87.3 percent.

“With the drop in Chinese tourists, we have been putting up discount events one after another to draw in customers somehow,” said an employee of a duty free store on Baojian Street. “But in the end we were only able to draw in some 50 percent of the sales we had last year this time around.”

Sales in retail stores in Jeju in the second quarter this year dropped 3.2 percent compared to the same period last year, the first time that they hit a deficit since 2010, according to the Bank of Korea. It said the sales in duty free stores in Korea also dropped 20 percent in the second quarter this year compared to last year’s.

Just on Saturday, 839 Chinese tourists visited Jeju, only 2 percent of a total 42,466 visitors to the island - 40,438 were Koreans and 1,149 from other countries including Japan and Southeast Asia.

Beijing targeted Korean imports and banned Chinese travel agencies from booking group tours to Korea earlier this year after Seoul agreed to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system, which China believes threatens its security interests.

Some 100 merchants in Jeju recently petitioned the city government to rename Baojian Street in Yeon-dong. The street was named after the Chinese company Baojian Group, which sent some 11,000 employees to tour Jeju in September 2011.

The street, some 448 meters (0.28 miles) long, used to be the hub of shopping and entertainment for Chinese tourists for years before China’s economic retaliation over Thaad.

Some 67 percent of Jeju residents that the Jeju city government surveyed also wanted to rename Baojian Street. The city government has opened a public contest for name suggestions for the street.

The lack of Chinese tourists was also visible at Incheon Port during the holiday, which had welcomed a cruise ship carrying some 2,500 Chinese tourists during Chuseok last year.

“Not a single cruise ship from China came into Incheon during the holiday,” said a spokesperson from Incheon Port Authority. “We are going to try to diversify our strategies so as to welcome cruise tourists from outside of China, maybe from the United States and Europe.”

“I kept my restaurant open throughout the holiday, hoping that there would be some tourists from China,” said the owner of a restaurant near the Incheon Port International Passenger Terminal. “But there were almost none, as far as I could see. I used to have at least some 20 to 30 Chinese tourists come into my restaurant every day during Chuseok last year.”

The Entas Duty Free store’s Incheon branch, the only duty-free store in Incheon, was practically empty except a few employees and local customers on Monday.

“The place is empty as you can see,” said an employee of a cosmetics shop inside the Entas Duty Free store. “I remember we had about 300 Chinese tourists come here every day during Chuseok last year.”

She added, “This year, I haven’t seen a single Chinese customer.”

BY CHOI CHOONG-IL AND LIM MYOUNG-SOO [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]