South Korea

Hong Kong tourists flock to South Korea to fill in void left by Chinese

The fare to South Korea from Hong Kong fell 11 per cent in March, compared with the same month a year ago.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 4:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 10:49pm

South Korea is quickly becoming the top draw for Hong Kong tourists, as hotel vacancies rose and prices dropped following China’s boycott of everything Korean amid a diplomatic spat.

Searches for Seoul by Hong Kong holidaymakers on global travel search engine Kayak shot up by 100 per cent last month from a year earlier, while visa-free Jeju Island has also witnessed an uptick in local tourist interest recently, according to data from the US-based company.

That resurgence came after Beijing in early March ordered mainland travel agencies to halt tour packages to South Korea amid escalating diplomatic tensions over Seoul’s intention to install the US-backed missile defense system, known as THAAD.

“Interestingly, Seoul quickly climbed in the rankings as a top destination among Hongkongers, as many believe it will be less crowded and things are going to be much cheaper,”Kayak’s Asia-Pacific senior director Amy Wei said. “We expect this trend to continue for some time.”

With Korean shopping mall operators, hotels and airlines scrambling to slash prices to woo visitors from outside China, the fare to South Korea from Hong Kong had fallen 11 per cent in March, compared with the same month last year, according to Kayak’s survey.

“Hong Kong holidaymakers tend to be price sensitive, and they prefer places with fewer tourists,”Wei said.

The immense popularity of Korean dramas such as Descendants of the Sun triggered an influx of Chinese tourists to South Korea.

Since 2013, China has overtaken Japan as Korea’s largest tourism source, making some major sightseeing spots often over-swamped with tourists.

But China’s state-choreographed boycott against South Korea broke out after conglomerate Lotte agreed on Feb 28 for its land to be requisitioned to host the THAAD system. Although aimed at protecting South Korea from potential missile strikes by North Korea, the missile shield’s radar can expose Chinese military secrets to South Korea’s American ally.

China’s online boycott puts Lotte in cross hairs amid THAAD row

Airlines from both South Korea and China cut the numbers of their round-trip flights, while cruise operators including Carnival and Royal Caribbean decided to replace their port calls in South Korea for China-based cruises with those in Japan.

As of April 9, Chinese visitor numbers have dwindled 64 per cent from 2016, according to the Korea Tourism Organization. That has prompted Korean authorities to launch a raft of programmes tailored for tourists from Thailand, Japan and other Asian countries.

Apart from Korea, smaller Japanese cities including Okinawa and Nagasaki have unseated mainland metropolitans of Beijing and Shanghai to become new magnets for Hong Kong travellers this year. Searches for these less-known places saw a“high double-digit” growth for the first quarter, according to Kayak.

“Since many of them have been to Tokyo and Osaka, they are now seeking to explore other parts of Japan and also to enjoy local cuisines,”Wei said.