Gyeongbok Palace is teeming with Chinese tourists while Changdeok Palace a few kilometers away attracts visitors from Japan.
A fact-finding study of package tours to Seoul by the Seoul Metropolitan Government finds that Gyeongbok Palace was included in 93.8 percent of tour programs marketed to Chinese visitors. The next popular destinations were Cheong Wa Dae (93.5 percent) and Chonggye Stream (43.8 percent).
But in tour packages for Japanese, Changdeok Palace accounted for 35.8 percent, followed by Bukchon Hanok Village (29.7 percent) and Cheong Wa Dae (28 percent), while Gyeongbok Palace accounted for just 16.7 percent.
Yet Changdeok Palace was found in only 0.7 percent of tour packages for Chinese.
The study was conducted in August and September last year on package tours targeting visitors from China, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand and offers insight into the sightseeing patterns of people from different countries.
In the case of tourists from other countries, Gyeongbok Palace still accounted for 92.6 percent of sites. The Chonggye Stream is the most popular site with 92.3 percent for visitors from Taiwan.
Tourists from Thailand favor N Seoul Tower (86.3 percent), while the most popular destination for visitors from Hong Kong is Cheong Wa Dae (41.6 percent).
Visitors from the six Asian countries other than Japan tended to favor similar sightseeing spots, but some places were distinctly favored by particular groups.
A large proportion of tourists from the Philippines (26.5 percent) favor the Choggye Temple, while Deoksu Palace (16.2 percent) and the Sungnyemun or South Gate (17.7 percent) are popular among visitors from Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Last year, 3.92 million Chinese and 2.71 million Japanese visited Seoul, ranking first and second in numbers.
City official Choi Yong-hoon explained, "Many Japanese visitors are return visitors, but most Chinese tourists are on their first trip, so sightseeing itineraries consist primarily of the most famous sites."
Chinese overtook Japanese to become the largest group of tourists in Korea in 2013, but since November travel agencies have been banned from marketing cut-rate package tours to Chinese. This has dealt a huge blow to the travel industry targeting Chinese tourists.
There had been 383 package tours targeting Chinese visitors, but the number fell to 195 after the ban went into effect.
However, others say that eradicating cheap tours, with their inevitable pressure to buy pots and pans from certain outlets and herding of tourists into out-of-town hotels, will eventually boost gains and improve Korea's image as a destination.
Prior to the ban, package tours costing W600,000-700,000 (US$1=W1,068) per visitor used to be the most common. But after the ban, packages ranging from W900,000 to W1 million have become more common.
Another city official said, "We have decided to introduce a quality assurance system guaranteed by the city government this year for packages targeting Chinese visitors, in order to improve the quality of services."