Japanese emerge as largest group of foreign visitors to Korea

Japanese tourists take photos in Myeongdong, central Seoul, on March 29. [YONHAP]

Japanese tourists take photos in Myeongdong, central Seoul, on March 29. [YONHAP]

Japanese tourists have emerged as the largest group of inbound tourists in Korea, replacing the previously dominant Chinese travelers.
A total of 665,611 Japanese tourists visited Korea between January and May, according to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). They represented the largest portion at 19.2 percent of 3,470,158 foreign inbound tourists.
Before the pandemic, Chinese nationals were the largest group of foreign tourists in Korea, accounting for 30 to 35 percent of foreign visitors in 2019. However, since December of last year, Japanese tourists have claimed the top spot in the monthly ranking of visitors to Korea, holding onto the title for six consecutive months. This shift in ranking has brought about changes in Korea’s tourism landscape.
In line with these developments, Seoul was the preferred international travel destination for Japanese tourists for their 2023 summer vacation.
Analyzing purchases of flight tickets and travel packages departing from July 21 to August 31, Japanese travel agency HIS revealed that Seoul claimed the top spot, jumping up two spots from its third-place ranking the previous year.
The recent increase in the number of Japanese tourists can be attributed to factors such as the weakening yen and the improving diplomatic relationship between Japan and Korea. As the value of the yen continues to decline, leading to costlier overseas travel, many Japanese individuals are opting for domestic trips or exploring neighboring countries.
Honolulu, traditionally the yearly top overseas destination for Japanese tourists, slipped to second place according to the HIS analysis, followed by Taipei, Singapore and Bangkok. Busan also gained recognition as a sought-after summer vacation spot, climbing to seventh place after not making the top 10 in last year’s survey. These destinations, excluding Hawaii, are relatively close to Japan, making them attractive options with affordable airfares.
Among Japanese tourists visiting Korea, young women in their 20s and 30s make up the largest proportion.
Data from the KTO reveals that out of the Japanese tourists who visited Korea from January to May, excluding flight attendants, women aged 21 to 30 accounted for 27.6 percent, or 183,001.
HIS also reported that people in their 20s account for approximately 30 percent of bookings made for Seoul, with female-to-female travel being the most common form of travel, accounting for about 40 percent.
This demographic is potentially influenced by the Hallyu wave, as the tourists aim to personally experience the various culinary delights, attractions, and entertainment featured in popular Korean content.
Hallyu’s influence can be seen in the popularity of Korean content on streaming platforms. According to streaming analytics company FlixPatrol, five Korean dramas, including “The Glory,” “Crash Course In Romance,” “Young Lady and Gentleman,” “Flower of Evil,” and “Divorce Attorney Shin,” were at the top of the most popular TV shows on Japanese Netflix in 2023.
“Women below the age of 30 represent the highest proportion of inbound Japanese travelers, and they are key players in the fourth wave of Hallyu,” a spokesperson for KTO said. “It seems that those who have been eager to visit Korea and have been greatly influenced by Hallyu since the pandemic are now making their way to Korea.”
On the other hand, Koreans were the largest group of foreign visitors to Japan.
Recent data released by the Japan National Tourism Organization indicates that 2,583,400 Koreans visited Japan from January to May, constituting 29.9 percent of 8,638,500 total foreign visitors. This means that for every Japanese person visiting Korea, there were three Koreans traveling to Japan.
Meanwhile, Japanese tourists are spending less on shopping in Korea due to the weakening yen. Industry insiders say sales from Japanese tourists make up a single-digit percentage of total overseas sales in domestic duty-free shops.
“The majority of sales, around 95 percent, are still generated by Chinese tourists, including daigou shoppers,” an official from a local duty-free business said. “The weakened value of the yen has diminished the price competitiveness of Korean duty-free shops when compared to local alternatives. Consequently, Japanese tourists engage more in tourism activities than shopping during their visits here.”

BY SEO JI-EUN [[email protected]]


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