Tourist Businesses Hope for Post-COVID Comeback

  • By Kim Kang-han

    April 08, 2022 11:59

    Tourist-oriented businesses are finally sensing a light at the end of the lockdown tunnel. Small businesses in Seoul's major tourist areas like Gyeongbok Palace, Itaewon and Myeong-dong are gearing up for a comeback after a crippling depression during the coronavirus pandemic.

    The palace is a favorite Instagram spot for young people to pose in hanbok or traditional Korean dress. Of the seven or eight hanbok rental stores near the palace, two have reopened after renovations and another is due to open in May.

    A 65-year-old owner said, "I'm sure foreign tourists also want to travel" as they come out of over two years of lockdown constraints.

    Another shopkeeper decided to reopen his store in the area in August after temporarily shutting it down due to the pandemic. "I'm looking forward to a lot more customers in the second half of this year because Korean culture is popular all over the world." 

    A hakbok rental store near Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul bustles with customers on Thursday.

    On a foodie street in Itaewon, restaurants are also being remodeled. One owner has spent a cool W45 million over the last two weeks (US$1=W1,219). "I've chosen American and Mexican menus to give foreign customers a taste of home and hired six new members of staff."

    Buildings in shopping mecca Myeong-dong, which relied heavily on Chinese shoppers, are also under renovation, but "for rent" signs still abound even as six new buildings are under construction in three back alleys near Myeongdong Cathedral.

    Jeong Hoe-cheol, a 65-year-old architect, bagged three remodeling contracts in Myeong-dong alone last month. "Each project costs about W300 million. Some owners are making a bold investment in expectations of business rejuvenation."

    Kim Tae-hwan of the Korea Start-up Center said, "We've been inundated with 20 percent more phone calls than a month ago from people who ask about how to start business because they want to seize this opportunity."

    Airlines and tour operators are also hopeful after the government announced that some 50 percent of pre-COVID flights will resume by the end of this year.

    The government has scrapped quarantine for fully vaccinated travelers since March 21, and 14,645 people booked overseas trips between March 14 and April 6, seven times as many as a year earlier. But that is still only a quarter of the 58,100 during the same period in 2019, before the pandemic broke out.

    Korean Air will increase weekly flights to Hawaii from three to five, to Paris from three to four, and to Guam from two to four in May. Asiana Airlines will also increase flights on the Los Angeles route from 10 to 11 and to Sydney from two to three a week, while budget carrier Jeju Air is considering increasing flights to Manila, Narita and Osaka in May. 

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