A Chinese Tourism Boom Has South Koreans Cramming | KERA News

A Chinese Tourism Boom Has South Koreans Cramming

Mar 19, 2015
Originally published on April 2, 2015 2:02 pm

Perhaps nowhere is the growth of the Chinese middle-class more visible than at top tourist destinations, which these days are teeming with Chinese travelers. The Chinese are traveling abroad in numbers never seen before, and it's felt strongly in South Korea, which finds itself scrambling to keep up with an estimated 4 million Chinese tourists a year.

In Myeongdong, Seoul's bustling, pedestrian-only main street for shopping, the common sounds you hear — besides blaring pop music from storefronts — are of a language foreign to Koreans: Mandarin Chinese.

A number of Chinese tourists say they're from Hangzhou, in southeastern China, and that they came to Korea for one main reason.

"Shopping. Shopping," says tourist Li Li-jun.

She goes on to explain Korea's skin care and makeup products are a huge draw, as she and her fellow Chinese travelers consider them luxury items they can get for a steal in Seoul.

Whether it's for skin care or other wares, the popularity of South Korea as a Chinese tourist destination has rocketed in recent years.

In 2014, Chinese residents visited South Korea more than any other foreign country, according to the Chinese National Tourism Administration. And they are spending in huge numbers anywhere they go. The World Bank's numbers show Chinese travelers spent $100 billion overseas in 2012, doubling what they spent just two years before that.

South Korean businesses want those tourism dollars, so companies here, particularly makeup companies, are sending their salesfolk back to school.

Hagwons, or private cram schools, are filling up with skin care salespeople, whose bosses are paying for them to learn how to cater to Chinese customers through language.

Soh Bor-am, a Korean, teaches eight one-hour classes of Mandarin per day.

"My mother used to say that even if you're selling hoddok, which is a kind of cake in Namdaemun markets, you have to know how to sell it in Chinese. And I find it very surprising that no matter which level of society you're in, no matter what your job is, you're expected to know this language," Soh says.

Nowadays, she only expects the demand for Chinese language classes to grow.

"Korea has a tendency to rely on other countries, and Korea gets influenced by other countries. So if before it was Japan, now it's moving to China," says Soh.

That's a reality of business and commerce across the globe. Catering to Chinese travelers means making money, and those traveling Chinese masses are only starting to swell.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DON GONYEA, HOST:

The growth of the Chinese middle class means that Chinese are traveling abroad in numbers never seen before. And nowhere is that felt more strongly than in South Korea. NPR's Elise Hu reports now on how South Koreans are scrambling to keep up with the millions of incoming Chinese.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Pop music blares from every storefront in Myeongdong, Seoul's always-bustling, pedestrian-only main street for shopping. The other sounds you hear are of a language foreign even to Koreans, Mandarin Chinese. Myeongdong is so hot among Chinese tourists that it seems every other shopper and every other store merchant can speak Mandarin. I tested it out by stopping the first group of strangers we spotted outside a Myeongdong accessory store. (Speaking Chinese).

That's Chinese we're speaking, decidedly not Korean. The tourists explain they're from Hangzhou in southeastern China, and they came here for one main reason.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Shopping.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Shopping.

HU: And why come all the way to Korea to buy things?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Chinese).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Chinese).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Chinese).

HU: They say they want Korean skincare and makeup which they consider luxury items they can gobble up at good prices. Whether it's for skincare or other wares, the popularity of South Korea as a Chinese tourist destination has rocketed in recent years. In 2014, Chinese residents visited South Korea more than any other foreign country, according to the Chinese National Tourism Administration. And they're spending in huge numbers anywhere they go. The World Bank says Chinese travelers spent $100 billion overseas in 2012 - double what they spent just two years before that.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken).

HU: South Korean businesses want those tourism dollars, so companies here - notably, makeup companies - are sending their sales folk back to school.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HU: Chinese hagwons - or private cram schools - are filling up with skincare sales people. Their bosses are paying for them to learn how to cater to Chinese customers through language. Soh Bor-am, a Korean, teaches Mandarin here.

How often are you teaching classes?

SOH BOR-AM: (Through interpreter) On average, I teach 8 classes a day.

HU: Oh, my god. (Laughter) That's a lot of Chinese.

BOR-AM: (Through interpreter) My mother used to say that even if you're selling hotok, which is a kind of cake in Namdaemun markets, you have to know how to sell it in Chinese. And I find it very surprising that no matter which level of society you're in - no matter what your job is, you're expected to know this language.

HU: Soh says she only expects the demand for Chinese language classes to grow.

BOR-AM: (Through interpreter) Korea has a tendency to rely on other countries, and Korea gets influenced by other countries. So whereas before Korea was more influenced by Japan, now it's moving to China.

HU: It's a reality of business and commerce across the globe. Catering to Chinese travelers means making money, and those traveling Chinese masses are only starting to swell. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.