Domestic Tourism, Retail Rebound

  • By Han Kyeong-jin, Lee Song-won

    June 30, 2020 13:35

    Close to 100,000 people visited Jeju Island last weekend just ahead of peak summer holiday season. According to the Jeju Tourism Association, 99,161 people visited the southern resort island over the weekend, and 99.7 percent of them were Koreans.

    As far as Korean visitors go, numbers have therefore returned to 98.7 percent of the usual for this time of year, whereas in March and April they plummeted to only 53 percent of the usual numbers.

    Private consumption ground to a virtual standstill in April due to the coronavirus epidemic, but consumer sentiment started to improve gradually in May and is even showing signs of rebounding sharply. Only overseas travel is largely still impossible.

    Luxury hotels on Jeju including Lotte and Shilla are fully booked every weekend, while car rental companies have seen reservation rates return to peak-season levels after plummeting by more than a third.

    A staffer at one car rental company said, "We are booked full three weeks ahead." One airline staffer said, "It's almost impossible to find empty seats on flights to Jeju at the weekends." 

    Visitors enjoy themselves on a beach on Jeju Island on June 27. /Yonhap

    Online shopping mall Gmarket analyzed travel product sales trends in the first six months of this year and found that overseas travel declined 75 percent on-year but domestic hotel and other accommodation bookings rose 27 percent.

    The result is a marked improvement in Korea's notorious tourism deficit. While the number of inbound tourists has declined sharply, Koreans are going nowhere else.

    According to the Bank of Korea, Korea's tourism deficit fell 20.9 percent on-year in April to US$344.5 million. Credit card usage overseas during the first quarter of this year also plunged 23 percent to $3.6 billion but in Korea is rose 2.5 percent to W205.8 trillion (US$1=W1,201).

    As the lockdown eases, sales at department stores and other offline retailers are up as well. Lotte Department Store's sales increase four percent on-year from June 1 to 28, while sales at its discount retail outlets increased 14 percent after plunging 12 percent and four percent in April and May.

    Over the same period Hyundai Department Store also posted a 6.6 percent sales increase in its branches and 21.4 percent in discount outlets.

    A department store staffer said, "Consumers who aren't able to buy products overseas appear to be spending money in Korea."

    As ever, luxury products are leading the trend. Shinsegae and Lotte duty-free shops' websites were swamped recently when the two chains dumped their leftover luxury inventory at huge discounts.

    Golf clubs are booked to levels not seen in 15 years. The owner of one golf course in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province, said, "It's become almost impossible to book during peak hours on weekends, and it's tough to find open slots even on weekdays now."

    According to travel agency Very Good Tour, domestic golf package sales increased fourfold this month compared to a year ago.

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