Korea braces for slump in Japanese tourism


Around this time of the year, local businesses related to the tourism industry such as hotels and airlines are busy preparing for the anticipated arrival of Japanese tourists during the Golden Week holidays that usually occur in late April and early May.

This year, however, is expected to be different since the number of Japanese visitors is expected to fall sharply due to the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the country on March 11.

“The number of Japanese travelers to Korea for the holiday season [from April 29 to May 5] will not be the same as last year,” said Yang Soo-bae, an official from the Korea Tourism Organization. “In March, the number of Japanese visitors had already decreased by 12.6 percent compared to the previous year, though the actual figure is still to be confirmed by the Korea Immigration Service later this month. We foresee the percentage of the on-year drop in May to be even bigger.”

In May, the number of Japanese tourists to Korea normally surges to an annual peak because of several public holidays there, including the Emperor’s Birthday, Constitution Memorial Day and Children’s Day.

At this time, Korean hotels, airlines, department stores, duty free shops and cosmetics stores enjoy large earnings because of the inflow of Japanese visitors.

Korean Air said reservations from Japan for the upcoming period between April 29 and May 5 have fallen by 10 percent, while Asiana Airlines said its reservations have dropped 5.3 percent.

For Golden Week in 2010, Korean Air filled 72 percent of its seats on Japan-to-Korea routes, compared to 62 percent this year. For Asiana, 66.3 percent of its seats were filled last year against 61 percent this year.

Meanwhile, local hotels, which have been fully booked for May in previous years, are worried about empty rooms this year.

“Currently, our rooms are under renovation and only 64 percent of them are available for guests,” said Park Cho-rong of the Millennium Seoul Hilton. “As of now, all the rooms are fully booked during the upcoming holiday season but the number of reservations made by Japanese tourists dropped 25 to 30 percent compared to the previous year.” Around 80 percent to 90 percent of the hotel’s guests are from China or Japan.

Lotte Hotel, which has been targeting Japanese tourists by promoting Korean Wave celebrities, also expects the situation to be different this year.

“The recent earthquake and tsunami seems to have affected us less than previous incidents such as SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] or the H1N1 virus, but we do expect the number of Japanese guests to drop significantly in May,” said Suh Gwang-il, an official from the hotel. “To make up for the vacancy, we are trying to lure business travelers from other parts of the world.”

The Grand InterContinental Seoul and InterContinental Seoul COEX hotels in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul, are hoping that Koreans will fill the gap in May.

According to hotel officials, the two hotels are offering more promotions this month than last to attract local customers, including a spa package for women.