The number of large tourist groups from China to South Korea is expected to drop, a local tourism agency said Friday, amid growing diplomatic tension over Seoul's plan to deploy a U.S. missile defense system.
According to the state-run Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), the number of Chinese visitors arriving here on incentive tours with their companies came to about 130,000 in 2016, boosting the overall number of Chinese tourists to a record high of 8.04 million.
The organization forecast the number of group tours to drop by up to 20 percent this year.
"January is usually a slow month for group tours but still the drop was more than visible," an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Relations between Seoul and Beijing soured quickly after South Korea announced plans to deploy the U.S. air missile defense system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), as a way to defend against North Korea's ever developing nuclear and missile technologies.
China is said to have banned special chartered flights to South Korea as part of its apparent retaliation against South Korea.
The country has also blocked shipments of various South Korean products, including cosmetics.
Against such a backdrop, the Seoul government has announced plans to develop new tailored tourism programs that will help attract more individuals and small tourist groups from China.
Such programs will include new half or one-day trips to the country, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said earlier.
The KTO said an increase in large tourist groups from other Asian countries will also help make up for the loss from China, adding the number of tourists arriving here on incentive tours from Southeast Asian countries is expected to reach 160,000 this year, up 20 percent from about 130,000 in 2016. (Yonhap)