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South Korea has a lot riding on the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics which start on Friday, but for the economy, the biggest benefit would be a return of tourists from China, which is the next host of the Games.
Tourist numbers crashed last year after South Korea angered China by deploying a U.S. missile defense system. While there had been hope for a detente with China after the two nation’s leaders met in December, the decline in tourist numbers continued into January.
The Korea Tourism Organization expects the pace of decline to ease in February as the Games start.
“We saw tourists from Beijing and Shandong — areas where package tours were resumed albeit with restrictions — booking trips for the Winter Olympics,” said Park Yong-hwan, a deputy director at Korea Tourism Organization.
The Korean government has sought to lure Chinese tourists by allowing no-visa entry for those who possess Games tickets worth 200,000 won ($183) or more. The Pyeongchang Olympics organizing committee doesn’t disclose how many tickets have been allocated to China’s authorized ticket reseller. As of Feb. 5, 77 percent of the 1.07 million tickets have been sold to spectators at home and abroad, according to the committee.
The collapse in tourism in 2017 dealt a blow to some parts of the economy, widening Korea’s services deficit and slashing 0.4 percentage point off annual growth, according to the central bank.