Dark clouds loom over Jeju ahead of China's lunar New Year celebrations, also known as the Spring Festival, which has traditionally brought vast numbers of Chinese to the resort island.
Some 42,880 Chinese tourists are expected during the weeklong holiday from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2, but that is down 8,505 from last year, according to the Jeju Special Self-Governing Provincial Tourism Association on Thursday.
Arrivals by plane are down 37.5 percent to just 25,920, and the rest will only stop over on cruise ships.
One reason is that Beijing has clamped down on cut-price package tours to Korea and banned some charter flights, possibly as a shot before the bow after Seoul decided to station a U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery here.
"Beijing rejected Korean airlines' applications for six new routes, including between, in January and February," a spokesman for the association said.
The tourism industry is worried. A staffer at the association of charter buses said, "Only 10 to 15 percent of charter buses are on the road as a result of dwindling group tourists from China." Cruise ships were expected make about 730 stopovers on the island this year, but two cruise companies have cut the number of voyages to Jeju.
But this is not all bad news. Late last year, the Jeju provincial government set new tasks for promoting tourism -- do away with cut-price tourism, and attract more individual tourists from a wider range of countries.
The island is determined to shift the focus of its tourism policy from quantitative to qualitative growth, which it hopes will result in better revenues despite smaller numbers.