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Research Centre for East Asian Studies Groningen Blogs and Postcards

No Chinese in Korea: peace and quiet or disastrous?

Lisa van den Broek

The Chinese form a large part of the tourists within East Asia. With the rising level of   welfare, more and more Chinese are visiting other countries within the region for holidays. South Korea is one of the favourite holiday destinations of the Chinese. Until March 2017 the Chinese made up nearly half of all the tourists that visited South Korea.

Yet with the disagreement between South Korea and China due to the deployment of the THAAD missile system by South Korea the number of Chinese tourists to South Korea has dropped dramatically. Some Koreans have named this a disaster yet others have called it a blessing.

The shop owners in the highly touristic Myeongdong neighbourhood in Seoul have called it a disaster as the number of Chinese consumers have dropped signiicantly. Within Myeongdong the odds of being spoken to in Chinese are greater than the odds of being spoken to in Korean if one has an Eastern Asian appearance and the majority of the stores employ either Chinese or Chinese speaking employees. The Chinese tourists make up the largest share of the consumers of the stores within this neighbourhood. Particularly the Korean beauty products stores that are heavily represented within Myeongdong have Chinese nationals as their primary customers. Moreover, the duty free stores have been impacted quite heavily as around 70% of their customers are Chinese. Hence the retailers have called the absence of the Chinese tourists a disaster for their businesses.

The retailers are not the only Koreans that have called the lack of Chinese tourists a disaster. The tour guides, hotels and stores on Jeju-island, one of the most popular Korean destinations amongst the Chinese, are not too thrilled about the lack of Chinese tourists either. The Chinese form about 85% of the foreign tourists to Jeju-island and as a popular holiday destination the local economy thrives on tourism. Hence the lack of Chinese tourists has impacted the local economy to a certain extent. Thus multiple Koreans have called the absence of the Chinese tourists a disaster, especially those that work in the tourist and retail sectors.

Yet, surprisingly there are also those that have called the absence of the Chinese a blessing despite the negative influence on the Korean economy of the absence of the Chinese tourists. Particularly Koreans that do not depend on the Chinese to generate their income have been quite positive about the absence of the Chinese. The Chinese tourists have built themselves quite a reputation over the years. They are often seen as tourists that spend a lot of money yet are also obnoxious and disrespectful of local traditions and customs.

Moreover the Chinese are seen as quite violent and have treated the locals and their surroundings with disregard as especially littering is a problem amongst Chinese tourists. This reputation has made the Chinese unpopular amongst the public of several countries within East Asia and especially amongst the Koreans. As such, the Koreans are quite fed up with the Chinese tourists and don’t mind their absence in Korea. Especially on Jeju island this trend of appreciating the lack of Chinese tourists has become quite visible with more mainland Korean travelling to Jeju islandfor a holiday now that the Chineseare not thereto thoroughly enjoy the beauty of Jeju island without being disturbed by hordes of Chinese tourists. One tour guide has even mentioned that as an islander she did not like the absence of the Chinese money wise but she loved the fact that she could visit all the

highlights of the island without having to move through hordes of Chinese tourists blocking the views. Moreover, she found that her job of guiding groups was more enjoyable without all the Chinese tourists. Besides, tours to Jeju and other parts of Korea are currently promoted amongst other foreigners and Koreans themselves at the moment using the speciic fact that there are less Chinese tourists as an extra positive feature why someone should visit these destinations right now.

Hence especially Koreans that do not depend on the Chinese tourists for their income have been quite happy with the absence of the Chinese tourists in Korea and have seen it as a blessing that has allowed them to enjoy their country without the hordes of misbehaving Chinese tourists. Yet as mentioned earlier, the Koreans working in the retail and tourist sectors are not happy with the steep decline of the number of Chinese tourists visiting South Korea since early March of this year.

Thus the lack of Chinese tourists has been seen as both a curse and a blessing by the Koreans and not just as disastrous as one might expect when looking at the large share of the Chinese in the tourism to South Korea.

Last modified:06 December 2017 2.22 p.m.