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Chinese group tours return to Jeju

Unofficial sanctions are lifting and agencies are busy getting ready
Nov 21,2017
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Chinese tourists visiting during the Lunar New Year holiday last year walk the streets of Myeong-dong, central Seoul. [JOONGANG ILBO]
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Chinese group tourists are coming to Korea this month for the first time since mid-March, when Beijing’s unofficial sanctions over the installment here of an antimissile system took effect.

“A group of 25 tourists from Shanghai are landing on Jeju Island on the 28th,” New Hua Cheng Travel CEO Yu Cheng-de told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday. “This suggests retaliations regarding Thaad [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense] are easing and signals the start of re-attracting Chinese tourists to Korea.”

New Hua Cheng Travel pulled in more than one million Chinese tourists last year alone.

“Economic retaliations against Korea were eased after the China’s 19th National Congress took place last month, but there were no actual group tours coming to Korea,” said Yu. “We’re now pushing through many other group tours starting from the Shanghai team. Considering the number of group tour applicants we’re preparing, chartered flights between China and Jeju Island will restart around December.”

Since early March, when Chinese state officials gave verbal orders to local tour agencies and online tour sites to stop offering and promoting tour packages to Korea, no Chinese group tours have come to Jeju.

“We’re expecting group tour visas to start being reissued in December,” said another tour agency CEO, who requested anonymity.

Another tour agency CEO also said that the company was organizing a large-scale incentive tour, hoping that “it may be possible by December.”

Last week, the Korea Association of Travel Agents (KATA) and 70 or so tour agencies targeting Chinese tourists held a meeting.

“The focus of the discussion was to elevate the overall quality of domestic tour products,” said KATA Chairman Yang Moo-seung. “We’re looking for ways to increase the percentage of revisiting tourists and become a sustainable tourist destination.”

Low-cost, low-quality travel and the prevalence of unauthorized tour offices and guides have been repetitively cited as problems regarding Chinese group tours. One representative malpractice is the so-called “poll tax,” whereby Korean tour agencies pay Chinese tour agencies to keep them suggesting Korea as a destination. Some local tour offices offered to pay all the accommodation fees for tourists who come here. But eradicating such practices will not be very easy. Last year, when the number of incoming Chinese tourists reached its highest level, poll taxes were 500 to 800 yuan ($75 to $121) per person.

This means the cost for pulling in 10,000 Chinese tourists last year would have been up to 1 billion won ($910,790).

Some industry sources point to duty frees as the reason for last year’s increased poll tax.

“There were duty-free operators who offered money to be used for pulling in Chinese tourists as part of the commission they pay to local tour offices for bringing in customers,” said an industry source on the condition of anonymity. “This is why the cutthroat competition to cut down prices is hard to stop.”

“We need to reduce dependence on shopping,” said Lee Yeon-taek, professor of tourism at Hanyang University. “And form tourism centers by combining hotels, casinos and regional development.”


BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]