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(LEAD) S. Korea lags behind Japan in luring tourists in 2015

All News 15:10 January 19, 2016

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead, dateline; UPDATES with Japanese tourism data in last five paras; ADDS photo)

SEOUL/TOKYO, Jan. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's tourism industry suffered a severe blow from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak last year, but Japan enjoyed a huge influx of travelers thanks to the cheap yen and easier visas, data showed Tuesday.

The number of foreign travelers to South Korea slipped in 2015 for the first time in 12 years in the wake of the MERS outbreak, reporting 6.8 percent on-year decline to 13.23 million visitors, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) said.

The number of travelers rose about 10 percent in the first five months, but it plummeted 40 percent from June to August following the first MERS outbreak in late May, the KTO said.

Travelers started to come back to Korea in September and their number rose 5 percent on-year in October thanks to shoppers who flocked to massive discount events held by retailers.

The viral disease took the heaviest toll on the numbers of Chinese tourists, who canceled their flights and tour packages in the peak summer season.

The total number of Chinese travelers to the nation declined 2.3 percent to 5.98 million last year, it said.

Japanese travelers also decreased as the falling yen further dampened their travel sentiments, marking a 19.4 percent drop to 1.83 million.

In contrast, more Koreans traveled abroad to take advantage of the cheaper airfares offered by low-cost carriers and extended holidays. The number of outbound travelers rose 20.1 percent to 19.31 million in 2015.

As the viral disease forced the Chinese to travel further east to Japan and the cheaper yen attracted more Korean shoppers, Japan beat Korea in attracting travelers for the first time in seven years.

Foreign visitors to Japan hit a record high of 19.69 million in 2015, marking the first time since 1970 that inbound travelers surpassed those who headed abroad, the Japan National Tourism Organization said.

Koreans were the biggest tourist group to Japan by nationality, with the number jumping 47.8 percent on-year to 3.95 million in 2015

The number of Chinese travelers doubled to 3.78 million, and Taiwan, the previous No. 1 tourist group, slipped to third place with 3.48 million.

South Korea first surpassed Japan in terms of the tourist number in 2009 and widened the gap to 3.5 million in 2011, but Japan took back the title, with its vigorous efforts to boost tourism.

ejkim@yna.co.kr
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