South Korea saw a significant jump in the number of Chinese tourists last year. Though this is welcome news in many ways, Seoul would also like to welcome more visitors from other countries to balance out the dominance of tourism from China.
The number of foreign visitors to South Korea was up 9% on the year to 12.17 million in 2013. Japan, by contrast, saw 10.36 million overseas tourists.
Last year marked the first time that Chinese tourist to South Korea outnumbered Japanese tourists to take the top spot. Much of this is credited to Seoul's successful tourism promotion, which includes the waiving of visa requirements since 2008 for Chinese tourists to the resort island of Jeju.
Chinese tourists accounted for 30% of all foreign visitors to South Korea, and their number was up by 53% from a year before. The number of Japanese tourists declined by more than 20%. Visitors from Thailand and Taiwan were also down. In fact, most countries had fewer tourists visiting South Korea last year than the year before, which makes the Chinese number stand out even more.
Once was enough
On Feb. 5, participants of the Japanese travel industry were invited to Seoul by South Korean tourism authorities. The head of the Tourism Bureau said at a luncheon that he hopes Japan recaptures the top spot in tourist numbers as soon as possible.
One reason South Korea wants to increase the number of non-Chinese overseas visitors is because, as a 2012 survey by South Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism found, the percentage of repeat Chinese visitors was only 29.7%. For Japanese visitors, it is 64.3%.
Many Chinese tourists cite unsatisfying visits for why they do not come back.
"Satisfaction among Chinese travelers is not necessarily high because many come on inexpensive tours," a person involved in the South Korean tourism industry said.
Chinese visitors also tend to concentrate on Seoul, mostly for shopping, despite the Korea Tourism Organization's efforts to introduce festivals in rural areas.