On Saturday December 2nd, a group of 32 Chinese tourists entered South Korea on a package tour.
Not normally remarkable except that it was the first Chinese tour group to come to the country in almost nine months,… signaling an easing of diplomatic tensions between South Korea and China over the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system THAAD back in March.
"From March we had zero package tour requests from China. Since about a week ago, we've got a couple of requests but not many."
The number of Chinese tourists dropped some 61-percent on-year, which is estimated to have cost the South Korean economy some 6.5 billion U.S. dollars in lost revenue.
That's a figure based on the average spending of Chinese visitors in 2016.
While many saw the 9-month gap in group tour packages from China as a damage to the Korean tourism sector, some industry experts actually saw it as a chance for positive change.
"Since 2013, China had outpaced Japan to become the main source of visitors to South Korea. But most of them were on what we call 'package dumping tours,' which are shallow, low-quality tours at low prices."
The expert added that this year's lull has served as a time for the tourism industry overall to reflect.
"We discovered a new pattern for catering to individual tourists from the existing one that relied heavily on package tours. It is time for a change in paradigm."
China's lifting of its ban on tours to South Korea is so far only partial.
Package tours can only be bought over the counter in Beijing and Shandong Province. And customers cannot buy any travel-related products from Lotte Group, the company that provided the land in South Korea for the missile system.
The Korea Tourism Organization agrees that it's too soon to say this partial resumption of tourism will have much impact, and that South Korea will have to continue to find new ways to reduce its reliance on Chinese visitors.
Lee Jeong-yeon, Arirang News.