It's not just the unrest in Thailand that's leading Chinese tourists to South Korea, it's the friendly visa policies that are paving the way for more visits and more money for South Korea's tourism industry.
South Korea is expected to overtake Thailand to become the top travel destination for Chinese tourists this year, China’s largest online travel agency Ctrip.com International Ltd said on Monday.
In the first half of 2014, a record 300,000 Chinese tourists, 70 per cent of them female, booked trips to South Korea through Ctrip, the company said in its 2014 ROK Travel Report.
About 4 million Chinese tourists visited South Korea in 2013, up 40 per cent year-on-year, with another gain of that size expected this year.
Travel is being supported by policies such as visa-free short-term visits to South Korea. Jeju Island, for example, attracted 1.81 million Chinese tourists last year, the largest single group of inbound visitors.
Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou account for the largest percentage of outbound Chinese tourists, but second- and third-tier cities are also seeing rapid growth.
Seoul, Jeju Island and Gangwon-do in South Korea’s northeast are the three most popular destinations.
Xue Qin, a sales manager at a textile machinery company based in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, took a brief trip to South Korea in May, her second visit to the country. While her previous visit took her to Jeju Island, she stayed in Seoul for five days this time, and her total cost was only about 4,000 yuan ($645).
“For women, Seoul is like heaven on earth, with plenty of choices for cosmetics and luxury products. From what I can see, the prices are cheaper than those in Hong Kong and the cost of visiting South Korea is lower. So I think South Korea’s a better choice now,” she said.
July to September is the peak season for trips to South Korea, accounting for about 43 per cent of the tourists. According to the Ctrip report, about 51 per cent of the tourists go on package tours. Among all the tourists, 60 per cent were born in the 1980s and 20 per cent were born in the 1990s.
Ctrip said that the growing number of Chinese tourists to South Korea is the combined result of easier visa procedures and improved transport capacity of airlines and cruise ships.
Feng Liyi, an urban planning engineer based in Shanghai, took a cruise trip with his wife to South Korea in June. He noted that “there are now plenty of cruise companies providing various itineraries to South Korea”.
The South Korea business division of Ctrip’s tourism department said that bilateral high-level visits have helped increase communication, and that has been reflected by increasing travel.
More Chinese tourists have chosen to visit South Korea to know it better. Their reasons for traveling range from shopping and meeting celebrities to attending concerts.
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Photo credit: A South Korean tour guide poses for photographs with a stamp for tourists at the Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters