South Korean tourism hit hard by China boycott

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SEOUL: South Korea's tourist industry has been hammered by China's boycott over the deployment of US missile defence system, with visitor numbers from the Asian giant plummeting 40 per cent last month, statistics showed.

Beijing banned Chinese tour groups from visiting South Korea from March 15 in a spat over the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system.

Washington and Seoul say it is for purely defensive purposes, but Beijing fears it could undermine its own nuclear deterrent and has reacted with fury, imposing a series of measures seen as economic retaliation.

Normally, more than half of the tourists to South Korea are from China, but only 360,000 visited last month, compared to over 600,000 a year earlier.

Total visitor numbers fell 11.2 per cent year-on-year to 1.23 million, the state Korea Tourism Organisation said.

The falls in tourism from China have also dealt a blow to duty-free shops in South Korea, with Chinese customers accounting for 70 per cent of their total sales, a Lotte spokesman said. The boycott will cost Lotte a reported US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) in the first half of the year. - AFP

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