China’s largest travel agency, Trip.com, is working on a business agreement with the Korea Tourism Organization that could provide a much-needed boost to South Korea’s struggling tourism sector once the COVID-19 pandemic starts to ease.
According to a report by Seoul’s SEN TV, signing of the agreement is expected to coincide with an upcoming visit to Korea by Chinese President Xi Jinping – currently planned for late 1H21 or early 2H. The goal is to promote a Korea-China tourism exchange.
China has long been South Korea’s largest tourism source market but has yet to recover from the fallout of the THAAD missile crisis of 2017, which saw China issue an official boycott on tourism to South Korea, including a ban on all tour groups. The result was a 50% decline in Chinese visitation, from 8.1 million in 2016 to 4.2 million in 2017, recovering only to 6 million by 2019.
Among those to feel the pain were Korea’s 16 foreigner-only casino operators, who remain at the mercy of international visitation. This represents all but one of Korea’s 17 casinos, with only Kangwon Land, some 2 hours east of Seoul by car, allowing locals gambling.
Paradise Co, Korea’s leading foreigner-only casino operator with three casinos in Seoul and Busan plus its Paradise City integrated resort in Incheon, reported losses of KRW19.0 billion (US$17.7 million) in 2017 and KRW21.05 billion in 2018 due to the THAAD crisis, crept back to a narrow profit of KRW14.96 billion (US$12.3 million) in 2019, but then fell to a loss of almost US$100 million in 2020 following COVID.
Any deal with Trip.com would come as a timely boost given the events of the past year.
“We are preparing various plans with various possibilities regarding Korea-China tourism exchange,” a Trip.com representative told SEN TV. “As one of them, we are also discussing agreements with the Tourism Organization, but nothing has actually been promoted.”