Retailers embrace rising influx of independent Chinese travelers

South Korea’s retail and tourism industries are seeking ways to embrace a growing number of independent travelers from China with customized services as Beijing is set to tighten regulations on cheap package tours, industry officials said Monday.

Duty-free operators and department stores have stepped up customized marketing targeted at shoppers in their 20s and 30s and deep-pocketed travelers from China, as they have become the main customers over the past few years.

Lotte Duty Free in Myeongdong, a major shopping district in downtown Seoul, is crowded with shoppers on Oct. 2, 2016. (Yonhap)

The shifting focus took on a new urgency as the Chinese government has been moving to tighten regulations on cheap tour packages, raising concerns among South Korean businesses relying on them as the biggest source of travel income.

Out of 5.98 million Chinese nationals who visited South Korea last year, nearly 60 percent were independent travelers, according to the state-run Korea Tourism Organization.

Lotte Duty Free, which is operated by Hotel Lotte, offers a “personal shopper service” for VIP customers to pair them up with stylists who give advice and suggest products that may suit their needs.

The nation’s largest duty-free operator has about 600,000 customers registered for VIP programs and also provides airport pick-up services for those who spend a certain amount of money.

Shilla Duty Free, which is operated by Hotel Shilla, said it regularly holds “beauty classes” to advise on the best cosmetic products and offer make-up services to attract Chinese customers in their 20s and 30s.

Tourism officials stress efforts to develop a wider array of options for Chinese travelers to encourage them to revisit in the future.

“We have focused on attracting more independent travelers over the past years not only from China and Japan but also Southeast Asian nations and the Middle East to meet their diversifying needs and upgrade the tourism industry’s competitiveness,” Hwang Myung-seon, a senior official at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said. (Yonhap)

Korea Herald