Chinese tourists returning to South Korea after missile tensions cool

Country’s finance minister says visitors numbers are rising again after taking a hit during last year’s row about a hi-tech US defence system

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 3:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 11:02pm

South Korea’s finance minister said on Wednesday that there was a rise in the number of Chinese tourists in March although the service sector has not yet recovered from a drop in such visitors due to tensions between the two countries.

“The number of Chinese tourists is noticeably increasing since March, although it hasn’t recovered to the pre-THAAD level,” Kim Dong-yeol told reporters.

Tourist numbers plunged last year after South Korea angered China by deploying a US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system that features radar which Beijing believes could be used to penetrate its territory.

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Kim did not cite any numbers showing an increase in March in tourists from China.

The Bank of Korea estimated earlier that the THAAD backlash had knocked 0.4 percentage points off South Korea’s economic growth rate in 2017. 

China allowed travel agents in Beijing and Shandong to resume sales of group tours in late November after the two countries vowed to “get relations back on track” the previous month.

During the stand-off over THAAD, Beijing also retaliated against South Korean companies in China, including carrying out fire inspections that led to the shutdown of hypermarkets run by Lotte Group, the conglomerate that provided the site for the anti-missile shield, and South Korean entertainment content was blocked.

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The travel ban dealt a heavy blow to the tourism sector. Latest figures from the tourism bureau show that the total number of Chinese visitors halved to 4.1 million last year compared with 2016, when more than 50 per cent of South Korea’s 17 million incoming tourists were Chinese citizens.

According to a January report from Ctrip – China’s largest online booking website with 300 million registered users – not even “a single group” of Chinese had organised to go to South Korea during the New Year holiday from late December to early January.