Wooing more travelers
Shortage of hotels must be tackled urgently
More than 1 million foreign tourists ― exactly 1.02 million ― visited the country in July. This marks the first time that the monthly figure has topped the 1 million mark.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism estimates the number of foreign visitors to Korea for this year at nearly 11 million, given that 5.33 million tourists visited here in the first half of 2012. Foreign travelers to Korea last year reached 9.79 million.
The surging inflow of foreign tourists was attributed to the rise in the number of family vacationers and the growing popularity of Korean pop culture. Publicizing the safety of touring Korea, coupled with the government’s revamping of immigration and visa issuance rules, has contributed a great deal to attracting more foreigners.
The most salient feature of the recent tourism industry is a sharp rise in the number of Chinese tourists. Of the 9.79 million foreign tourists that visited the country last year, 3.29 million or 33.6 percent were Japanese and 22.7 percent or 2.22 million were Chinese. The proportion of Americans was only 6.8 percent.
In July, however, Chinese overtook Japanese for the first time with 320,000, compared with 300,000 Japanese visitors. For the first half of this year, Japanese visitors reached 1.81 million, compared with 1.19 million Chinese.
China holds the key to opening the era of 20 million foreign tourists in Korea. China’s overseas travelers numbered 66 million last year but the figure is expected to reach 78 million this year. If the current pace continues, the number of Chinese tourists would surpass 100 million in two years.
To our regret, however, only 3.4 percent of China’s overseas travelers chose Korea as their tourism destination last year. This explains why Korea should set its sights on China, capitalizing on the market potential of the world’s most populous country.
Specifically, customized services such as the creation of shopping malls catering to Chinese tourists must be developed. It would be also necessary for Chinese to be able to pay in yuan at department stores or duty-free shops.
What’s most urgent is to tackle the shortage of hotel rooms. According to the tourism ministry, securing hotel rooms has been a serious problem in Seoul as lodgings for tourists rose by 3 to 4 percent annually since 2009 while the number of travelers surged by more than 10 percent a year.
Tourism is a value-added service industry, along with health care, which has great job creation potential. Equally important is its key role in rectifying the travel account imbalance. In fact, Korea suffered a tourism deficit of $1.9 billion last year but the shortfall narrowed to $140 million during the first five months of this year thanks to the explosive rise in inbound travelers. It might be possible for the country to notch up a travel surplus in 2012 for the first time in 12 years.
It’s high time for the government to become a trouble-shooter in the travel industry, given tourism’s positive impact on the faltering economy.