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Japanese travelers rushing to S. Korea on weakening won. Weekend trips sold out

12, 26. 2008

   A rapidly increasing number of Japanese are "taking the advantage" of rising value of the yen and weakening won to visit South Korea. The exchange value of the won against the yen is now about half of what it was a year ago. Duty-free shops and outlet malls in South Korea are crowded by Japanese tourists who are looking for good buys for name-brand goods. Local people in some areas in South Korea say they can see only Japanese in their areas.

Shopping, beauty treatment and grilled meat-popular among Japanese

S. Korea becoming popular as trip destination because of strong yen, weak won
S. Korea becoming popular as trip destination because of strong yen, weak won

   The number of Japanese making overseas trips is decreasing as a result of the worldwide economic decline and rising surcharges on airplane fuel reflecting the rising crude oil prices. But the number of the travelers going to South Korea is increasing. According to a forecast announced by JTB on travels by Japanese in the yearend-New Year period (Dec. 23, 2008-Jan. 3, 2009), the number of the people going abroad will drop by 4.6% from a year earlier. But those who visit South Korea are expected to rise 24.7%. It takes less than three hours from Tokyo or about one hour from Fukuoka to fly to South Korea. This means the travelers can have enough time to enjoy themselves by visiting South Korea if they have three days off. Package tours arranged by travel agents only cost 20,000 yen to 30,000 yen. These low prices are no doubt attractive, but there seem to be other reasons for the sharp increase in those visiting South Korea.

   Here is what a person in charge of public relations at JTB says:

"Trips to South Korea have been the center of attraction since the middle of October 2008, when the won began rapidly weakening. The exchange value of the won has dropped to a half now since the same period of last year. This gives the feeling of more than offsetting the rises in the surcharges. This feeling seems to become stronger if you pay higher prices for items like name-brand goods."

   The visits to South Korea are now popular among the wide range of Japanese people, including women who want to go there for shopping and beauty treatments and those who go by family groups for treatments of the Korean-style grilled meat. There are so many people going to South Korea now that it is impossible to make reservations for the trip during the weekends within December.

   "The reservations for the trips during the period between December and March next year are up 160% over the same period of a year ago. The number of such travelers jumped a few years ago during the 'Korea boom'. The increase is about the same now as that time," the JTB official said.

   For another travel agent H.I.S., the booking for South Korea trips during the period between Dec. 23, 2008 and Jan. 4, 2009 is up by staggering 150%. A person in charge of the public relations of this company said:

"The euro and dollar are also weakening. But South Korea is geographically close and it is a popular destination for a holiday trip because it is possible to visit that country over a weekend at a cheap total cost."

   The company is promoting tour packages with the catchphrase, "Strong yen and weak won now provides the best chance! Buy up South Korea." Popular among them is "Yoju premium outlet". About 120 shops are displaying goods in the mall, including such brand names as Dorche and Gabbana, Givenchy, Barberie and Vivian Westwood. It is part of the same mall chain operated in such places in Japan as Gotemba, but the goods can be bought at cheaper prices in South Korea because of the weakening won. It is rather difficult for individuals to visit the mall in South Korea because it is located in suburban areas, but visiting he mall became popular especially among young woman after the tour of the mall was included in tour packages.

S. Korea's biggest duty-free shop is crowded by Japanese

   An unusual scene is said to be noticed at the duty-free shop where many tourists visit. A person in charge of public relations at the Tokyo office of the Korea Tourism Organization said that he hears the Shilla duty-free shop in Seoul, which is the biggest shop of the king in South Korea, is now crowded by Japanese tourists because of the rising value of the yen as it is on the top of the cheaper duty-free prices.

   The monthly sales of the eight duty-free shops operated by Lotte Duty Free Shop in South Korea went up by 1.5 fold over last year while the number of the visitors to the shops also increased by 1.5 times as of Oct. 19, 2008. According to the Tokyo office of the company, the prices of the French Chanel products would be 20% to 30% cheaper in South Korea than in Japan. The South Korean health product ginseng extract is about 40% cheaper, and some Japanese tourist bought 200,000 yen's worth of the product. Japanese tourists have the impression that things are cheaper in South Korea and they tend to buy more. Their purchase went up by 1.9% each.

   The weakening of the won is likely to continue for some while, pushing up the number of Japanese visitors there in the future. Moreover major airline companies have announced that they would lower their surcharges in January 2009. The charges on flights to South Korea will be lowered from the present 8,000 yen to 5,000 yen. An official at a tourist agent said:

"I had the feeling as if my neck was being choked because of the soaring oil prices and the worldwide economic slowdown, but now I see that the future is bright."

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