Tourists from Southeast Asia are making up for the shortfall of Chinese visitors in Seoul's shopping district of Myeong-dong.Only around 2 million tourists visited Korea last year, compared to 14.43 million before the coronavirus pandemic in 2019, and the proportion of Chinese visitors fell from 33.9 percent to 3.3 percent. But tourists from Southeast Asia increased from 13.1 percent to 26.7 percent over the period as countries there largely returned to normal while China remained in lockdown.One 43-year-old street vendor in Myeong-dong has placed a halal sign on his stall. "I put up the sign because of a sharp increase in the number of visitors from Southeast Asia since there are a lot of Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia," he said.Some stores have even hired Muslim staff. One man from Uzbekistan has been working part-time since last autumn at a street stall selling lamb skewers. "More Muslim customers come if I sell halal food," he said. Signs on other street stalls are in Thai and Vietnamese.
Some restaurants have become famous on Instagram. One Indonesian who visited a well-known halal restaurant late last month said, "I became interested in Korea by watching dramas, but I was worried about the food when I came here for the first time, but I was relieved to see there is halal food."Shopkeepers are adapting. Min Chae-won, who works in a cosmetics store, said, "We get around 30 customers a day and 70 to 80 percent are from Southeast Asia." And Choi Chang-soo (23), who sells fashion accessories, said, "Before the pandemic, most of the customers were Chinese, but now more than half of the customers are Southeast Asian." Lee Kang-soo (50), head of a federation of merchants in Myeong-dong, said, "Some store owners can now speak Thai and Bahasa."