Chinese tourists wait in line to buy Korean cosmetics at Shinsegae’s duty free shop in Seoul in this photo taken on Wednesday. [Photo by Lee Seung-hwan]
Frosty ties between South Korea and China show signs of thawing after President Moon Jae-in took office, with expectations running high that China would ease its restrictions against Korean businesses and entertainers imposed in retaliation to Korea’s placement of a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery.
Travel agencies and airlines in China are cautiously forecasting that the ban on group tour sales for Korea imposed by the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) on Mar. 15 will soon be lifted.
According to travel industry sources on Wednesday, some of travel agencies in China already resumed a visa application service for Chinese wishing to visit Korea and online travel companies began to market free travel sales to the country. For example, Chinese online shopping website Taobao started to trade free travel products on Apr. 25 for Seoul, Busan, Jeju and other Korean destinations.
“Although China has yet to lift the ban on group travel sales for Korea, there is no objection from Chinese authorities when some travel agencies there began to market travel products for Korea on a trial basis,” said a market watcher.
A visa application service for the entry of Chinese travelers into Korea is widely available after a small number of agencies resumed the service. But experts say it may be too early to be optimistic. Earlier, there were news reports that Chinese travel agencies resumed to sell travel products for Korea on May 20, but the Korea National Tourism Organization confirmed those reports are baseless, only reflecting hope from travel industries.
Seoul’s retail chain Lotte Mart, too, is showing high expectations. It has been all eyes and ears at China’s measure regarding its operations stalled by tough compliance requirements in China. “There is growing hope for a change now as a special envoy from Seoul’s new administration delivered President Moon’s message to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and discussed cooperation,” said an official at Lotte Mart. The comeback of Chinese tourists to Korea will be a great relief to business performance of hotel and duty free shops, other sources said.
Tax-free shops in Seoul took a heavy toll from China’s ban on Korean trip of its people who have accounted for 60 percent to 80 percent of revenue of Korean duty-free shops on average. Combined sales of duty-free ships in downtown Seoul and airports last year reached 12.3 trillion won ($10.9 billion) and the lion’s share of 70 percent came from the pockets of the Chinese.
By Sohn Il-seon and Choi Seung-jin
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]