An imposing group of 3,000 visitors is due in South Korea next month in a symbolic show of normalization in frayed ties between Seoul and Beijing over a U.S. missile shield installation, according to tourism authorities.
The Incheon Tourism Organization on Tuesday confirmed that a Shanxi-based subsidiary of China’s Youde Group has chosen South Korea as the destination for a year-end reward trip for 3,000 employees.
If materialized, the trip will make China’s first group tour to Korea since March when Beijing banned package tours to the country in retaliation for Seoul’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
Korean businesses ranging from tourism and retail to cosmetics and entertainment have been devastated by the absence of their biggest customer.
Then late last month, Seoul and Beijing came to a sudden agreement to normalize relations after a year-long standoff. China’s foreign ministry in a joint statement said the two countries had agreed to get their relations back on track “at an early date.”
The domestic tourism industry is hopeful that this week’s summit talks between South Korean and U.S. leaders in Vietnam and the 3,000-strong group tour could be a watershed in renewed flood of Chinese visitors.
South Korea benefits greatly from reward trips by Chinese corporations thanks to its geographic proximity. About 6,000 employees from China’s cosmetics-making Aurance Group came to Korea for their annual company-sponsored trip in March last year, generating 30.4 billion won ($27.3 million) revenue for the Korean economy with each visitor spending 2.8 million won here. Zhongmai Group’s 8,000 employees in their trip in May spent an estimated 49.5 billion won.
Youde Group’s 3,000 employees will depart by train from Datong, Shanxi Province and take a boat at the port city of Weihai to arrive at Incheon Port International Passenger Terminal. They would stay mainly in Incheon and Seoul. Incheon city is arranging for them to experience kimchi making, a winter ritual in Korean households.
By Choi Hee-seok and Kim Hyo-jin
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