SOUTH KOREA. Chinese visitor arrivals rose +40.9% in August to 478,140, continuing the now sustained recovery from the THAAD-hit 2017 numbers.

New Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) figures show that Chinese visitors represented 34.4% of all arrivals in the month.

For the first eight months of 2017, Chinese arrivals were up just +6.5% to 3,059,075, reflecting a very tough first quarter before Korean-Chinese relations improved as the THAAD dispute eased.

Korean travel retailers are hoping that conventional Chinese tourism (group tours and FITs) continues to normalise, especially in the wake of a spate of well-publicised recent crackdowns on daigou shoppers returning to China.

But there’s a way to go yet before the 2018 performance can be considered normalised. In August 2016 – long before the THAAD crisis erupted – 873,771 Chinese visited South Korea, a 52.5% share and nearly +83% higher than this August’s number. Similarly, 5,608,046 Chinese arrived in South Korea in the first eight months of 2016, some +83% higher than the 2018 year-to-date result.

Korean travel retailers are hoping that conventional Chinese tourism (group tours and FITs) continues to normalise, especially in the wake of a spate of well-publicised recent crackdowns on daigou shoppers returning to China (see separate story coming soon). The booming but unofficial daigou trade sustained the growth of Korean duty free through 2017 (and into 2018) despite the drop in visitor numbers.

Suitcase or Sku-case? Daigou shoppers at Incheon International Airport cram every possible purchase into their carry-on luggage. Pictures (late 2017): Martin Moodie

Japanese tourism buoyant

But South Korean tourism and duty free is not just about the Chinese. Japanese arrivals surged by +38.9% year-on-year in August to 315,025, representing a strong 22.6% share of arrivals. For the first eight months, Japanese numbers climbed +23.1% to 1,851,713, an 18.8% share.

But growth in Korean outbound traffic slows

Outbound Korean departures rose just +5.6% in August to 2,519,860, continuing the easing seen in July after double-digit growth through the first half. For the first eight months Korean departures increased by +11.1% to 19,331,262.