SEOUL – The South Korean government has designated 2010 to 2012 as “Visit Korea Year”.
Right now, tourists from Japan account for the majority of foreign visitors, followed by China in second place.
But Chinese tourists are expected to top the list, following the easing of visa regulations for Chinese nationals this month.
It is not difficult to find Japanese tourists walking the streets of Myongdong, a popular shopping district in central Seoul.
But in recent years, there has been a drastic increase in the number of Chinese tourists too.
In 2006, there were about 900,000 Chinese tourists who visited South Korea, accounting for about 26 per cent of the total number of foreign tourists. Last year, that number increased to 1.3 million.
And even more of them are expected, following the South Korean government’s announcement that it would ease visa regulations for them starting August 1.
Tourists said it takes an average of about one week to receive a visa and multiple-entry visas are only issued to a limited number of elites.
But under the new rule, this will be expanded to employees of the top 500 Chinese companies, teachers, retirees with pension income and graduates of prestigious universities.
“I know of a friend who had a problem getting a visa and so couldn’t come to South Korea,” a Chinese tourist said.
The South Korean government had been under pressure to ease visa regulations for Chinese tourists, who are known to be big spenders in South Korea.
Lotte Shopping spokesman Kim Sung Dae said: “In the case of the Japanese, many spend only the amount they had planned to spend, but in the case of the Chinese, they spend when they are in the mood.
“And so if we look at the figures, the Chinese customers spend about twice the amount compared to the Japanese.”
Another Chinese tourist said: “I think shopping is the most important reason people come to South Korea. I like Korean fashion.”
And so with the new rules in place, South Korea is hoping it will help bring in about three million Chinese tourists by 2012 and about 10 million Chinese tourists in the next 10 years.