Japanese become South Korea’s largest group of foreign tourists


On March 29, Japanese tourists took pictures in Myeongdong, downtown Seoul. (YONHAP)

Japanese tourists have replaced the previously dominant Chinese tourists as the largest group of inbound tourists to South Korea.

According to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), a total of 665,611 Japanese tourists visited South Korea between January and May. They accounted for the largest proportion of 3,470,158 foreign tourist arrivals, accounting for 19.2%.

Before the epidemic, Chinese citizens were the largest group of foreign tourists in South Korea, accounting for 30% to 35% of the total number of foreign tourists in 2019. But since December, Japanese tourists have topped the monthly ranking of South Korean tourists. The South Korean team won the championship for six consecutive months. This change in ranking has brought about a change in the tourism landscape of South Korea.

In line with these developments, Seoul has emerged as the top international travel destination for Japanese tourists for summer vacation in 2023.

An analysis by Japanese travel agency IHS of purchases of air tickets and travel packages departing from July 21 to Aug. 31 showed that Seoul topped the list, up two spots from third place last year.

The recent increase in the number of Japanese tourists can be attributed to factors such as the depreciation of the yen and improving diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea. As the yen continues to depreciate, making overseas travel more expensive, many Japanese are opting to travel domestically or explore neighboring countries.

Honolulu, traditionally the top overseas destination for Japanese tourists each year, has slipped to second place, followed by Taipei, Singapore and Bangkok, according to the IHS analysis. Busan, also considered a popular summer holiday destination, didn’t make the top 10 in last year’s survey but has now climbed to seventh place. These destinations (with the exception of Hawaii) are relatively close to Japan, making them attractive affordable options.

Among Japanese tourists to South Korea, young women in their 20s and 30s account for the largest proportion.

According to data from the Korea Tourism Organization, women aged 21 to 30 accounted for 27.6 percent, or 183,001, of Japanese tourists visiting South Korea from January to May, excluding flight attendants.

IHS also reported that people in their 20s accounted for about 30 percent of bookings in Seoul, with female-to-female travel the most common form of travel, accounting for about 40 percent.

This group may have been influenced by the Hallyu wave, as tourists aim to experience first-hand the variety of food, attractions, and entertainment featured in popular Korean content.

The influence of Hallyu can be seen in the popularity of Korean content on streaming platforms. According to data from streaming analytics firm FlixPatrol, five K-dramas including “Glory,” “Crash Course in Romance,” “Lady and a Gentleman,” “Flower of Evil” and “Divorce Lawyer Shin” topped the list. Most watched TV shows on Netflix Japan in 2023.

“Women under the age of 30 account for the highest proportion of inbound tourists from Japan, and they are key players in the fourth wave of Hallyu,” said a KTO spokesperson. of people are now heading to South Korea.”

On the other hand, Koreans are the largest group of foreign tourists visiting Japan.

According to the latest data released by the Japan National Tourism Administration, from January to May, there were 2.5834 million Korean tourists, accounting for 29.9% of the total 8.6385 million foreign tourists. This means that for every Japanese who goes to Korea, three Koreans go to Japan.

Meanwhile, Japanese tourists are spending less on shopping in South Korea due to the depreciation of the yen. According to industry insiders, sales from Japanese tourists account for a single-digit percentage of overseas sales of domestic duty-free shops.

“The majority of sales (approximately 95%) are still generated by Chinese tourists, including daigou An official at the local duty-free shop said. “The depreciation of the yen has weakened the price competitiveness of Korean duty-free shops compared with other local stores. Therefore, Japanese tourists do more tourist activities than shopping when they travel here.”

Writer: Seo Ji-eun (seo.jieun1@joongang.co.kr)


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