SOUTH KOREA. South Korea will only get a short-term boost to inbound tourism from hosting the Winter Olympics, according to analyst ForwardKeys.

Inbound flight bookings for February are currently +15.4% ahead of where they were at this time last year, it said, with the Winter Games taking place in Pyeongchang between 8 and 25 February.

Source (all charts) ForwardKeys
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However, bookings for March are currently -24.9% behind. ForwardKeys analyses about 17 million flight booking transactions a day to generate its data.

The company noted the impact of the THAAD dispute between South Korea and China, with visitor arrivals from the latter falling -67% in the year to 1 April 2017.

In November 2017, China relaxed its ban on group tours to South Korea and in early January North and South Korea held talks which resulted in North Korea planning to attend the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. “There was speculation that the Games could mark a tourism revival but that is looking unlikely,” ForwardKeys said.

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“In 2017, Chinese New Year fell on 28 January but this year it falls on 16 February. Therefore, one would expect there to be a relatively steep decline in Chinese travel to Korea prior to the Games and a strong surge during the Olympic period.

“However Chinese bookings for February are just +5.6% ahead of where they were at this time last year. When one considers that total Chinese outbound bookings during February 2018 are currently +108.6% ahead of last year, the contrast is stark.”

ForwardKeys also noted a shift in the profile of Chinese visitors. In February 2017, 65% came in organised groups, as opposed to independently. But this year 82% will be independent travellers. The analyst suggested there was an “ongoing overhang” from the ban on group travel.

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The Winter Olympics has boosted inbound tourism from certain long-haul origin markets, ForwardKeys observed. Excluding China, overall bookings for the Olympic period are currently +20.1% ahead.

The most spectacular growth is from Vietnam, at +555% ahead. ForwardKeys said this was the result of a combination of improved air connectivity, a visa waiver for the Olympic period and Tet holidays (Vietnamese New Year).

Bookings from Hong Kong (+24.8%), the USA (+23.8%), Germany (+30.7%), Canada (+41.6%) and Malaysia (+19.1%) are all also ahead.

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“In tourism terms, the Winter Olympics will provide a glow against the gloom,” said ForwardKeys CEO Olivier Jager.

“The reality is that South Korea is very heavily dependent on China for its tourism exports and, right now, the strongly growing outbound Chinese market is headed elsewhere in Asia. The rebuilding of diplomatic relationships between Seoul and Beijing is the key to its recovery.”