Last Thursday marked the 100th day of a Chinese tourism boycott in retaliation against Seoul's decision to deploy a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery from the U.S. here.
The boycott took the form of a ban on so-called zero-dollar tours, a huge source of revenue for Korean businesses where big Chinese tour groups pay little money upfront but are herded from one shopping venue to another. In return Koreans have also avoided China as a holiday destination.
The beneficiary seems to be Japan. According to Japanese tourism officials, the number of tourists to the island country last month surged 21 percent on-year to a record-high 2.29 million people.
The cumulative number from January through May reached 11.42 million, breaching the 10-million mark faster than any other year. Numbers from Korea surged 39 percent to 2.83 million and from China eight percent to 2.69 million over the period.
That has helped boost Japan's retail industry as well. Sales of Japanese department stores for April totaled 452.7 billion yen, up 0.7 percent on-year and the first increase in 14 months.
The number of tourists to Korea in April, by contrast, fell 27 percent on-year to 1.08 million, with the biggest drop among Chinese visitors with 60 percent.
A Korea Tourism Organization official said, "Fewer Chinese tourists have visited Korea amid the THAAD spat since March, while Japanese visitors stayed away due to rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula."
Korean hotels are being hit hard. Lotte Hotel's reservations from March to May were down 30 percent from the same period last year, and Plaza Hotel's reservations from Chinese guests fell from 15 to 10 percent.
"There are many places where the booking rate until August is zero, so the damage from the boycott is expected to continue," one hotel staffer said.