Asia Minute: Korea’s Record Tourism Numbers May be Vulnerable

Nov 28, 2016

Credit Philippe Teuwen / Flickr

Much of the news from South Korea these days focuses on politics—and the scandal surrounding the country’s president. But tourism has quietly become another big story in Korea—and now that too is being affected by politics. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

2016 is already a record year for tourism in South Korea.  Last week, the Korean Tourism Organization said visitor arrivals cracked 15-million through the end of October—shattering a record set two years ago.  Tourism officials say another two million people could visit by the end of the year.  Nearly half of the travelers this year have come from China.

Three years ago, a little more than a third of the visitors came from China.  As with any business, that reliance on a single market could make Korea’s tourist industry vulnerable to a sudden change.  And that’s where the politics come into the story.

China’s government is upset that South Korea has decided to deploy a US anti-missile system: the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense—or THAAD.  A publication of the People’s Daily reports Chinese travelers have been canceling trips on their own because of the move by South Korea’s government.

Bloomberg quotes an official at the Korea Tourism Organization as saying Chinese authorities are ordering travel agents to cut the number of package tours to Korea from this month until at least next April.  One positive trend for South Korea’s tourism business: after two years of decline, visitors from Japan are bouncing back this year.