Chinese crackdown on ‘K-drama’ prompts South Korean tourism fears over THAAD

SOUTH KOREA. Travel retailers are growing increasingly concerned about a potentially severe Chinese backlash following the South Korean government’s decision to deploy a US-developed missile shield.

As we reported last month, South Korean plans to deploy the advanced US missile defence programme Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system (THAAD) some 220k southeast of Seoul by late 2017 have outraged the Chinese government.

A backlash that could critically undermine the resurgent and all-important Chinese tourism business to South Korea is now gathering force. Reports in Chinese state media and today’s South China Morning Post claim that TV producers in China have been told to postpone any plans for new programmes featuring South Korean stars.

Korean pop and drama stars have been a critical element of the way in which Korean duty free retailers have marketed to Chinese tourists over the past decade. New Seoul duty free retailers such as Shilla IPark duty free, Galleria Duty Free 63, Doota Duty Free and Shinsegae Duty Free have all been targeting big-budget ‘hallyu’ (Korean wave) stars to help attract adoring Chinese visitors.

Lotte Duty Free pioneered the association between travel retail and hallyu stars through the immense success of the brilliantly successful Star Avenue concept at its Lotte World and downtown Seoul flagship stores.

Today’s South China Morning Post story underlines just how the THAAD dispute has escalated

Already there are suggestions that a robust 2016 recovery in Chinese tourism to South Korea following the MERS-hit 2015 might be under threat.

The Korea Bizwire last week quoted a leading tourism industry official expressing his concerns over the deteriorating bi-lateral relationship, noting: “We see a rising number of Chinese tourists cancelling travel reservations that were scheduled for August.”

The report said that Korean tour agencies are having difficulty recruiting Chinese tourists for the three-day Golden Week holiday which begins on 1 October in China.

This is what’s at stake: The latest Korea Tourism figures underline the dramatic rebound in Chinese and Japanese visitor numbers from the MERS-ravaged June 2015. But could the THAAD controversy damage the recovery?
(Above and below) Celebrities don’t come any hotter right now than the charismatic Song Joong-ki, face of the Doota Duty Free marketing campaign and star of the TV drama phenomenon Descendants of the Sun


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