One year after controversy over the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system caused pain in the South Korean tourism sector, the country has seen a rebound in Chinese tourism recently. However, some Chinese travel agencies still hold a cautious view about improvement in China-South Korea relations.
A Chinese tourist who recently traveled to Seoul said she purchased a variety of products such as cosmetics and e-cigarettes and spent about 30,000 yuan ($4,712.3) during the trip.
"Many Chinese people were shopping there, and there was a shortage of some products," the tourist, surnamed Tang, told the Global Times. As a regular visitor to South Korea, she found that the number of Chinese tourists was much higher than in 2017 when the anti-THAAD sentiment in China was strong.
The THAAD system, which is intended to protect against the nuclear and missile threat from North Korea, drew strong objections from China. Group tours to the country were halted in March 2017, but the "ban" has since been partially lifted, according to media reports.
China-South Korea relations have improved over the past few months and some Chinese travel agencies have resumed their South Korea-bound travel packages, while others are still cautious about the thaw in bilateral relations.
"We launched a few packages two weeks ago, including visa-application services, group tours and self-guided travel," Xu Xiaolei, manager of marketing at China's CYTS Tours Holding Co, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
"We received some requests from customers for South Korea tours, and we are keeping a watchful eye on the Korean Peninsula situation," Xu said, noting that the company is only sending a small number of tours to the country. "We still hold a cautious view about improved China-South Korea ties," he said.
The rebound in Chinese tourism to South Korea has reportedly boosted the local economy. The increased number of Chinese visitors has driven up several indexes in the services sector, such as accommodation and the catering industry, the Seoul-based Aju Business Daily reported on Sunday.
In March, South Korea received 403,413 visitors from the Chinese mainland, up 11.8 percent year-on-year, according to data from the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). The March data also ended consecutive declines in the numbers of tourists from the Chinese mainland to South Korea for 12 months since March 2017.
The South Korean government said Tuesday it will pursue further growth of the inbound tourism market from China, media reports said on Tuesday.
Also, The KTO announced on Monday that it will team up with Alipay to promote travel and attract more Chinese tourists to Korean cultural shows and concerts during self-guided tours.
"After the recent meeting in Tokyo between leaders of China, Japan and South Korea, the peninsula situation has moved in a more positive direction, but uncertainties still remain," said Bai Ming, deputy director of the International Market Research Institute under the Ministry of Commerce.
"Some small-sized travel agencies may resume South Korea-bound packages, but the larger ones are likely to [be more cautious]," he said.