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Chinese tourists now No. 1 in Korea. Not all are happy
Complaints of misadventure and mistreatment as Korea joins a list of nations struggling to handle the growth of inbound Chinese tourists
The tourism industry in Korea is “screaming for joy” over the rapid increase of Chinese tourists to Korea but desperately needs to upgrade its tourism offerings in order to accommodate rising Chinese demand, according to local media.
The problems are not unique to Korea, with many nations and tourism bodies ill-equipped to adapt to a growing numbers of Chinese visitors.
Although the exact figure is yet to be released, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) estimates 110,000-120,000 Chinese tourists visited Korea during China’s Golden Week holiday from September 30 to October 7, and spent ₩20 billion (approximately US$18 million).
According to the Korea Herald Business, Chinese tourists to Korea outnumbered Japanese tourists for the first time ever this past July and are forecast to consistently become Korea’s number one inbound tourism group.
However, there were accounts from Chinese visitors unsatisfied with their travel experiences in Korea, the report added (Korean language).
The Korean daily said the government needs to look into “the lack of accommodation and infrastructure, low-quality travel products and mistreatment of Chinese tourists by Koreans” so that “the big fish” don’t opt for rival destinations such as Taiwan and Japan instead.
More on CNN: Demystifying the Chinese traveler
So-called "misadventures" of Chinese tourists in Korea were frequently reported in local media this past week.
At the beginning of Golden Week, Yonhap news reported 20 Chinese tourists had been led to a jjimjilbang (Korean-style sauna) by their travel guide for the night, due to an oversight on the part of the travel agency. All the hotels in the region had been overbooked.
The appalled tourists filed a complaint at the Chinese embassy in Seoul. (To be somewhat fair, Koreans sleep at jjimjilbang regularly.)
In a separate item, Yonhap news also reported the entire city of Busan has only one registered official travel guide who can speak Chinese, in contrast to 262 guides who speak Japanese.
Last year, some 476,000 Chinese tourists visited Busan, which is less than the 589,000 Japanese tourists who visited in the same period, but still deserving of more than one guide.
"Although the number of Chinese tour groups is increasing, it's extremely difficult to find a guide who speaks Chinese, so we have been employing college students who speak Chinese in lieu of real travel guides," one travel agent told the daily.
“We don’t really have the power to build hotels or tell people to build hotels,” a KTO representative told CNN when asked about lack of infrastructure for the growth of inbound Chinese tourists.
“We’ve been concentrating on content and programs and trying to come up with more inventive methods of accommodation, such as programs for staying in people’s homes or hanok (traditional Korean houses) rather than hotels in the city."
The representative said one trend KTO has noticed is more individual Chinese tourists to Korea than in previous years.
"Before, group travel was the trend. Now, Chinese tourists seem to be looking for more unique experiences."