Korean travel agencies asked for financial help from the government on Monday to assuage their financial difficulties amid a sharp decline in the number of Japanese tourists to South Korea due to threats from North Korea and ongoing political tensions between the neighboring countries.

The Korea Association of Travel Agents, a group of 15,000 members from local travel agencies, sent an official letter to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, requesting financial support for their promotional activities to attract Japanese tourists.

“We are trying our best to meet the government’s goal to reach the 16 million mark in foreign tourists to South Korea, but as the Japan-South Korea relationship started to deteriorate with President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Dokdo last August, we have suffered serious financial problems (with the continuous drop in Japanese tourists),” said the official letter.

According to the KATA, the number of Japanese tourists visiting Korea between March 19 and April 15 hit 88,122, a 33 percent drop from the same period last year.

The number slid for seven months since last September to the extent that Korea saw a 22.5 per cent drop in Japanese tourists during the first quarter of 2013.

The typically large influx of tourists during the Japanese “Golden Week” holiday (April 27-May 6) in Japan is unlikely this year.

The Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry predicted in a recent survey that some 114,000 Japanese tourists would visit Korea during the holiday period, a 10.9 per cent drop from the same period last year.

“The decline is greater than usual and the decline is lasting longer because we have constant tension with Japan after President’s Lee’s visit to Dokdo, followed by his demand for an apology from the Japanese Emperor. And there’s the yen’s depreciation and now the North Korean issue,” said Rhee Byoung-chan, director of the Japan team of the Korea Tourism Organisation.

“It usually took about one or two months to recover from political tensions between the two countries, but it hasn’t really had a chance to recover from this series of incidents.”

According to Rhee, Korean travel agencies that are heavily dependent on inbound Japanese tourists have been largely affected by the ongoing tensions, and most of the Japanese tourists seen on the streets are individual tourists.

In the letter, the KATA asked the government to fund their promotional activities and travel package advertisements, saying they are “in desperation and worry about the collapse of the tourism industry.”

However, Rhee said: “Unless there’s a summit meeting between two countries calling for some ways to dissolve tensions, there is not much the private sector can do to improve the situation.” ___

Tags: korea, tourism
Photo Credit: Palace square at Gyeongbokgung, South Korea. Alex Murphy / Flickr