Gap in inbound, outbound travel grows from drop of Chinese visitors

SEOUL-- A heavy drop in the number of Chinese visitors to South Korea nearly doubled the gap between inbound and outbound travelers, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) said Thursday.

The January-June tally this year showed that some 6.75 million foreigners came to South Korea, down 16.7 percent from the same period last year, according to KTO. The number of outbound South Koreans totaled over 12.62 million during the same months. The last time that the gap neared twofold was in 2007.

The imbalance apparently is largely attributed to the sharp drop in the number of Chinese visitors. Their number fell 41 percent, from 3.81 million to 2.25 million, during the cited months. The dive resulted from a diplomatic row between Seoul and Beijing over South Korea's decision to host a U.S. missile defense system on its soil. Beijing insists that the system, intended as a deterrence against North Korea's missile threats, can also pick up sensitive missile movements in China.

Tally from March, when Beijing restricted group travel to Korea and imposed trade limits, to June showed that the number of Chinese visitors had dropped 60 percent.

The gap was replaced somewhat by travelers from Taiwan, whose number increased 14 percent for the biggest increase among foreign visitors. They have become the third-largest group of foreign tourists to Korea so far this year, edging out the United States.

The volume of Japanese travelers increased 6.48 percent, and Hong Kong 5.37 percent. The number of people coming from Thailand gained 4.13 percent. For U.S. visitors, the increase stood at 0.67 percent.

The KTO projected that the number of inbound travelers could drop up to 27.2 percent, or 4.69 million people, this year from China's retaliation and geopolitical factors, including threats from North Korea.

The number of visitors to Korea last year had leaped 30.3 percent from the year before to set a new record.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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