Chinese tourist spending boosts South Korean economy

Chinese tourist spending boosts South Korean economy

Hundreds of Chinese tourists crammed in front of Korean cosmetics brand counters at Lotte Duty Free Shop in Eulji-ro, Seoul, on Tuesday, the last day of their "Golden Week" of holidays that marks China's National Day.

Leaving little room to walk between the counters, female tourists indulged in the last shopping spree of their vacation.

The Chinese National Day holiday, which runs from Oct. 1-7, is a peak time for shops in popular tourist spots such as Myeong-dong, Dongdaemun and Insa-dong.

Tens of thousands of Chinese visit South Korea during the weeklong holiday. The Korea Tourism Organisation predicted earlier that 160,000 Chinese would visit during Golden Week, up 35 per cent from the same period last year.

"The number of Chinese customers has doubled during the National Day holiday week," said Kim Chul-in, a sales clerk at Sulwhasoo, a popular cosmetic brand with Chinese tourists, at the Lotte Duty Free Shop.

"Eighty per cent of our customers are Chinese. They spend about 300,000 won (S$354) to 400,000 won on average per person."

Another sales staff of the same brand at the Lotte Department Store said she sees some six to seven large groups of tourists visiting the store each day, and half of them spend 1 million won on skin care and makeup products.

Lotte Department Store reported 3.7 per cent increase in sales during the National Day holiday thanks to spending made by Chinese tourists.

Instead of the annual fall markdown event for Koreans, the department store has been promoting a sales event only for foreign customers, mainly targeting the Chinese.

The sale, which continues through Oct. 19, offers a 10-30 per cent discount with an extra 10 per cent off. Foreign customers can also save 8 per cent with a tax refund, and receive gift certificates to lure them to shop again.

"We bought cosmetics and clothes that cost about 30,000 yuan ($4,800) in total," said a family surnamed Caohe from Anhui Province in eastern China at the tax refund lounge at the Lotte Department Store on Tuesday.

Cosmetics, clothes and bags are among the popular shopping items for Chinese tourists.

The large spending by Chinese tourists is expected to grow and make a significant contribution to the Korean economy.

According to a report by Hana Daetoo Securities, the amount Chinese tourists spent on shopping in South Korea was 6.1 trillion won in 2013, which accounted for 1.9 per cent of total domestic retail spending.

They expect the amount to rise fivefold to 35.3 trillion won in 2020, to make up 7.7 per cent of the national total.

The number of Chinese tourists is expected to increase steadily over the next five years. The KTO estimates that some 5.8 million Chinese tourists will visit this year. The number is estimated to double to some 10 million in 2018.

Chinese arrivals have already taken up 42 per cent of the total arrivals in South Korea from January to July this year.

"Korea emerging as a favourable shopping destination for Chinese tourists is a great sign and a huge benefit to the country. Korea can be the next shopping mecca after Hong Kong, which draws tens of millions of tourists for shopping," said Suh Young-choong, director of the China team at the KTO.

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