A sharp drop-off of Japanese visitors to South Korea is causing "screams of agony" to emanate from Korea's travel industry. In an article tinged with unmistakable schadenfreude, Yukan Fuji (July 8) reports that until March of last year, growth had been buoyed by the "Han-ryu boom" of TV dramas and other Korean popular culture, sending the number of Japanese visitors to an all-time high of 360,000 that month.
Since then, however, the territorial dispute over the island of Takeshima (called Dokdo in Korean) and other sources of friction threw a wet blanket on the relationship between the two neighbors, and since last September, the numbers of monthly visitors from Japan have posted successive year-on declines.
New South Korean President Park Geun-hye has not taken steps to reduce the confrontation, despite rising complaints from the nation's travel agencies, which are being forced to downsize and lay off their workers.
By April this year, the situation had become so dire that the 15,000-member Korean Association of Travel Agents (KATA), citing economic hardship, appealed to the government for financial assistance. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism made available 10 billion Korean won in emergency funds to keep ailing businesses from going under.
On June 25, the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry appealed to its Japanese counterpart to seek "restoration of normalization" of tourist exchanges. In September, leading members of Korea's travel industry plan to visit Japan for exchanges with local organizations in an attempt to patch things up.
A survey by Korea's quasi-official travel organization found that visitors from Japan declined year-on from last September. Visitors in April 2013 came to about 200,000, a year-on drop of 32.2%; and the 220,000 Japanese visitors in May represented a drop of 29.6%, down by about 100,000 people from the previous year.
The effects of the slump are not being felt solely by travel agencies; hotels in the Lotte Group posted an operating loss for the first quarter of 2013, and Silla Hotels also reported a major drop in revenues. Medium-size and small hotels are also said to be hurting.
A projection by Japan's JTB agency for the upcoming peak period this summer, which runs from July 15 to August 31, sees a 24.8% drop in travelers from Japan to South Korea, down from 343,000 in the same period in 2012. Bookings of packaged tours departing from Kansai International Airport are also down by from 20 to 30%, according to an Osaka-based travel agency.
A questionnaire survey conducted this past spring by the Abbey Road Research Center, operated by the Recruit publishing group, asked subjects which country would you like to visit in the future? Compared to 6th place in 2012, Korea this year had dropped to 18th. Seeing as how Korea had succeeded in achieving a respectable 6th place from 9th place in 2011, the drop this time was particularly conspicuous.
An executive at a travel agency explains the sharp drop in Korea's ranking as resulting from the decline in "enjoyment of leisure," a basic factor in stimulating consumer demand. If only from the obvious impression that "visiting a country with an anti-Japanese bias is not enjoyable," it's no exaggeration to say that the so-called "Han-ryu boom" may be nearing its end, as far as travel is concerned.
Korean Air President Chi Chang-hoon has acknowledged the problem, describing it as "a matter to be dealt with by the travel industries of both countries." But rather, asks Yukan Fuji rhetorically, isn't it Korea's vociferous anti-Japan posturing that ought to be dealt with?© Japan Today