By Lee Hae-rin
Korea is set to step up online and offline strategies to welcome Chinese tourists — particularly those on family vacations — as some 85,000 Chinese are expected to travel to Korea on the occasion of the Spring Festival holiday season that kicks off this week, according to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), Tuesday.
The Spring Festival, which is the largest and most widely celebrated holiday in China, starts with Lunar New Year on Saturday and continues until Feb. 17.
The KTO plans to make use of chartered flights between Incheon and China’s northeastern city of Shijiazhuang to attract such travelers.
There will be 1,023 flights between the two countries over the eight-day holiday season, including chartered ones.
Over 9,000 Chinese travelers have booked the KTO’s trip packages to Korea that China’s local and online travel agencies jointly promoted, the organization said, noting that the most popular destinations on the various itineraries were Seoul, the visa-free southern resort island of Jeju and Gangwon Province, the host region of the recent Winter Youth Olympics.
Notably, the KTO has been running a mobile pay promotion for Chinese travelers this month, where discounts up to 20 percent are offered at retail shops affiliated with Alipay+ in Myeong-dong and those affiliated with Zeropay across the country.
Chinese travelers who make mobile payments or post content online related to their trip to Korea on Chinese social media, such as Xiaohongshu, will be offered the chance to join events at HiKR Ground, a promotional hall at the KTO Seoul Center, including getting their pictures taken at unmanned photo booths.
Last month, the KTO launched its official account on Xiaohongshu, a giant social commerce platform in China with 200 million monthly active users and 140,000 registered brands.
Reflecting China’s local trend to exchange mobile “hongbao,” or red envelopes with “lucky money” for special occasions among friends and families, a free digital hongbao template with a blue dragon and a KTO character is offered for free on WeChat accounts of the KTO’s seven China offices.
The KTO’s efforts come as Korea is falling out of favor among Chinese tourists, according to its state-run media outlet.
The Global Times reported Saturday that Korea didn’t make it to the top 10 destinations for Chinese in its online poll with nearly 25,000 respondents.
“Chinese tourists’ enthusiasm for South Korea, which was once a top destination for Chinese travelers, has also fallen sharply due to a slew of factors, including the current South Korean government’s hostile policies toward China and reports of Chinese visitors being mistreated or even discriminated against in South Korea,” the media reported.
However, Korea ranked sixth among most-traveled destinations for Chinese users last year on Trip.com, according to Edison Chen, the vice president of the company.
The company’s data shows that Korea foresees upbeat prospects in terms of recovery of inbound tourism from China, according to Chen during a forum last week hosted by the culture ministry and the KTO on inbound tourism trends.
To boost the recovery, Korea needs to develop more tailored, small-sized and diverse tour programs of higher quality to meet the advancing standards of young, independent Chinese travelers who are more trend- and digitally sensitive than the traditional Chinese tour groups that Koreans are familiar with, he noted.