The Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade estimates that the 4.32 million Chinese tourists who visited Korea last year created an economic impact worth W13.4 trillion (US$1=W1,1022). That is equivalent to 0.9 percent of Korea's GDP and the sale of 440,000 high-end sedans for W30 million each.
The institute estimates that the growing numbers of Chinese tourists have created 240,000 jobs, four times the amount of jobs created over the same period by the nation's top 47 conglomerates, including Samsung, Hyundai, SK and LG.
The number of Chinese tourists visiting Korea has risen more than 25 percent on average per year from 1.07 million in 2007 to 5 million this year. The explosive popularity of Korean TV soaps and pop music has placed Korea at the top of the wish list of Chinese travelers.
They also spend more money here, from buying Korean cosmetics to having plastic surgery. Each Chinese visitor spent an average of US$2,272 during their stay in Korea last year, 1.3 times more than other foreigners.
But complaints from Chinese visitors have also risen due to a shortage of hotel rooms and overcharging. Some vow never to come back after the way they were treated. Indeed, statistics show 60 percent of Japanese tourists return to Korea, but only 30 percent of Chinese visitors.
The tourism industry has to stop treating the rise in Chinese tourists as a temporary phenomenon that is to be milked for all it is worth. It must approach the trend from a strategic standpoint to nurture a new growth industry that has the potential of creating many more jobs.
New resorts and other tourism-related infrastructure must be built in order to attract more Chinese tourists, while new medical services catering to their needs must also be developed.