According to data from the South Korean tourism department, the number of Chinese tourists to South Korea reached nearly 8.07 million in 2016, accounting for 46.8 percent of foreign tourists visiting South Korea.
A Chinese tourist learns how to fold a Korean lucky bag at the exhibition hall of Korea Tourism Organization in Seoul. [Photo/Xinhua]
However, due to the escalating tensions between Seoul and Beijing over the former's decision to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system, South Korea's tourist industry is facing a nightmare.
China issued South Korea travel warning
China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) released a warning on March 3 to remind Chinese citizens to be cautious in deciding whether to travel to South Korea.
According to CNTA, there have been increasing cases of Chinese tourists being held up during entry to Jejudo, the largest island of South Korea. Some of the rejected tourists were made to wait a long time at the local airport before being sent back to China.
Package tours to South Korea removed by Chinese travel agencies
On March 3, Chinese travel agencies including Ctrip, Tuniu and Tongcheng removed all package tours to South Korea.
"Tuniu strongly opposes South Korea's installation of THAAD and the provision of land for THAAD by Lotte Group," said Tuniu, one of China's leading travel websites.
According to Tuniu, they will honor related existing bookings. However, Tuniu will encourage customers to change their trips if previous bookings involved businesses owned by Lotte -- whose businesses include hotels and duty-free shops.
Chinese flights to South Korea suspended
Most Chinese tourists enter South Korea by air. In February, there were 4,433 flights from China to South Korea. Therefore, the decline of Chinese tourists to South Korea will definitely hurt airlines both in China and South Korea.
Spring Airlines said that the influence of the THAAD issue to the flights between China and South Korea is still uncertain, but they will make adjustments according to the real demand.
Actually, due to the sharp drop of passengers to South Korea, many Chinese airlines have adjusted the flights in line with the new market demand. According to Ningbo Airport, all flights to South Korea will be suspended from Ningbo Airport, including the flights of China Eastern Airlines and Spring Airlines.
It is estimated that the amount of Chinese tourists will drop sharply if flights between China and South Korea are reduced by the Chinese government.
30 percent of Lotte hotel bookings cancelled
With the escalating tensions between China and South Korea over the THAAD issue, many hotel bookings were cancelled by Chinese tourists and tour agencies. About 30 percent of Lotte hotels' bookings were cancelled.
According to Ibis Budget Ambassador Hotel in Seoul, the bookings of all Chinese tour agencies have been cancelled, and every day there are two to three Chinese tourists cancelling bookings. The business of this hotel is heavily damaged because half of its customers are from China.
Lotte City Hotel in Myeongdong said the cancellation rate of its bookings rose to 30 percent since Feb. 28, the day Lotte agreed to provide the land for the deployment of THAAD.
The number of Chinese tourists to South Korea has increased sharply in recent years. In 2016, the number of Chinese tourists accounted for at least 50 percent of foreign tourists in South Korea. Therefore, more new hotels are needed to satisfy the increasing numbers. Since 2016, six new hotels opened for business just in Myeongdong. However, the THAAD issue will damage the hotel business in South Korea.