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S. Korea to diversify source of foreign tourists

All Headlines 10:35 January 06, 2017

SEOUL, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is set to diversify the source of foreign tourists this year amid concerns that diplomatic tensions with Beijing may slow the growth rate of Chinese tourist arrivals, industry experts said Friday.

The number of foreign tourists arriving in South Korea hit a record high of 17.2 million last year after falling 6.8 percent on-year due to the spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus here a year earlier.

Industry experts said the country's foreign tourism sector got back on track due to various favorable factors, such as a weakening Korean currency.

In 2016, Chinese accounted for nearly half of all foreign tourists with 8.04 million, helped by South Korea's campaigns and the easing of visa rules to target a growing group of Chinese independent tourists.

Despite the upturn, there are concerns that ongoing tensions stemming from Seoul's decision to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system may have adverse effects on the tourism sector down the road.

Already, the Chinese government rejected South Korean airlines' plan to operate chartered flights to China ahead of the busy Chinese New Year holiday season.

Also, the consular office of the Chinese Embassy notified Korean travel agencies of toughened rules that complicate the visa application process.

The latest moves raised speculation about Beijing's strong opposition as China believes THAAD will harm its strategic interests in the region.

Industry experts said that the Chinese government's action may hamper South Korea's goal to attract 8.3 million Chinese tourists this year.

In this regard, the Seoul government is moving to diversify the source of foreign tourists by launching aggressive marketing campaigns targeting Japan and Southeast Asian nations, the experts said.

Also, the government will customize travel packages priced over 3 million won (US$2,700) for wealthy Chinese visitors who spend big in South Korea.

South Korea and China also plan to form a vice minister-level consultative body in March to help eliminate cheaper travel packages that have drawn complaints from Chinese tourists.

A group of Chinese tourists arrives at Incheon International Airport on Jan. 1, 2017. (Yonhap)

khj@yna.co.kr
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