SEOUL, Sept. 29 (Xinhua) -- In the first week of every October, South Korea anticipates a major influx of Chinese visitors in search of sightseeing and shopping.
This year, the anticipation is greater than ever as a record number of Chinese tourists are expected to flood into the country during the so-called Golden Week holiday period from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7. The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) predicts about 100,000 Chinese visitors, up about 30 percent from the same period last year. And the Chinese are forecast to spend about 200 million U.S. dollars. In the days leading up to Golden Week, popular shopping places in South Korea were already crowded with Chinese shoppers in a buying mood for everything from souvenirs to luxury goods.
The importance of Chinese customers is keenly understood by South Korean retailers as they have emerged as the major force behind sales growth amid sluggish domestic demand. "Sales to Chinese customers have increased more than two-fold every year in the past 3-4 years," said Kim Jung-eun, deputy sales manager at the main branch of Lotte Duty Free in Myeongdong. "Chinese shoppers make up the highest portion of sales at our main store with about 40 percent."
She said the retailer beefed up the number of Chinese speaking staff assistants to cater to the huge number of Chinese customers during China's Golden Week.
The company, part of Lotte Group, is also running promotions to boost Chinese shoppers' spending including the chance to win a Sonata sedan made by Hyundai Motor's Chinese venture and free stays at parent Hotel Lotte's properties.
Other retailers have also launched aggressive marketing campaigns to lure more Chinese customers. Major department stores in Seoul have started offering special discounts and promotions exclusively for Chinese shoppers.
Skincare and makeup products from South Korean brands are favored particularly among Chinese shoppers as they are considerably cheaper here than at home. "I'm buying skincare products from Sulwhasoo for my mother," said Lotte Duty Free customer Lin Xinying, 19, a student from Guangzhou. "It's cheaper here and there's more choice."
Sulwhasoo, a luxury skincare brand by South Korea's top cosmetic maker Amore Pacific, has gained huge popularity in recent years among Chinese customers as it is famous for using traditional oriental ingredients.
Proving its huge popularity, a store of Sulwhasoo in Lotte Duty Free was swarmed with Chinese shoppers. "Chinese customers account for about up to 70 percent of store sales and mostly prefer products with ginseng ingredients," said deputy store manager Noh Soo-yeon.
A surge in the number of tourists from China, on the back of the country's growing prosperity and a relaxation of visa requirements, gives a boost to South Korea's retail and tourism industries in South Korea.
Han Hwa-joon, director of China Team at the KTO, said the Chinese have emerged as the most lucrative foreign customers for such industries. "Foreigners visiting South Korea spend an average of 1,200 U.S. dollars, while Chinese tourists spend an average of 1,940 U.S. dollars," said Han."The importance of Chinese tourists has grown significantly and will be heightened even further."