In South Korea, a glut of tour agencies are chasing Chinese tourism dollars by offering commissions to Chinese tour agencies. There are also various kick-backs to Korean hotels and restaurants and shopping areas, leading to one big mess of “dirt-cheap tourism”:
“The greatest victim of this vicious cycle is the image of Korea among potential visitors. A local daily newspaper in Nanchang in China’s Jiangxi Province reported about this kind of travel in October under the headline, ‘Korean tourism ends up being pathetic.’ One person interviewed in the article joined a package tour of six days and five nights that included visits to Seoul and Jeju Island. It cost 3,919 yuan, or about 700,000 won. Despite the higher price, this trip was also part of the dirt-cheap travel trend. The guide constantly demanded that he shop more and more. The guide didn’t even let the bus depart from the shopping center because the tourists has not bought enough.
‘Those who didn’t buy anything should go to the shop again. Let’s get off the bus right now,’ he said, according to the article.
Chinese travelers generally agree that they should shop a certain amount because they have chosen to visit Korea at a cheap price. However, the problem was that there was nothing they wanted to buy at the shopping malls that the guide brought them to.
To cover margins, South Korean tour operators are using cheaper and dirtier hotels and restaurants while turning up the pressure for the Chinese tourists to buy stuff.
This is obviously bad news for a country so often concerned with its image in the outside world. (More specifically, some Koreans are quick to point out how much cleaner and friendlier their country is than big, loud, smoggy China.)
I’m also reminded of a day-long bus trip I took in Hong Kong a few years back. It was all pretty good, but at the end of it they dumped us off at a jewelry shop. Why they thought the American in torn cargo shorts and a Singha Beer t-shirt was in any position to drop thousands of dollars on obviously crap level gold and diamonds is beyond me, but I drank a few cups of their wonderful free tea and smiled all the same because, Asia.