The number of foreign tourists visiting South Korea fell 41 percent year-on-year in June, due to fears about an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in that country, statistics showed and officials confirmed.
South Korean casino operator Paradise Co Ltd – which runs venues catering only for foreign players – saw a 50.2 percent decline year-on-year in casino sales in June, the firm had said in a filing to the Korea Exchange on July 6.
June’s national dip in inbound foreign tourists was the first such monthly year-on-year fall since May 2013 – a month that saw neighbouring North Korea launch four short-range guided missiles into the Sea of Japan – showed data from the Korea Tourism Organization released this week.
The June 2015 inbound tourism numbers showed approximately 750,900 arrivals, compared to 1.27 million in the year-prior period, said the Korea Tourism Organization.
“The reduced number is attributable to the travel advisory warnings for Korea [imposed]… by the governments of Taiwan and Hong Kong, which were hit hard by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003,” a Korea Tourism Organization official said.
The number of visitors to South Korea from Hong Kong and Taiwan plunged 74.6 percent and 75.7 percent respectively in June from a year earlier. Hong Kong and Taiwan issued red travel alerts after the MERS outbreak was reported, and advised their populations against travelling to South Korea.
The Korea Tourism Organization has launched what it calls a “100-day tourism recovery plan,” aiming to recover – within a 100-day period – the monthly visitor numbers seen prior to June, reported the Korea Times.
South Korea has 17 casinos but 16 of them are for foreigners-only. In the judgement of some investment analysts, this puts a brake on their potential earnings. That is because it makes them dependent on tourists from abroad and in particular on visitors from neighbouring China. Such trade can be volatile and affected by factors outside the control of the casino industry, they point out.
The foreigners-only casino projects currently tabled for South Korea include Resorts World Jeju, a scheme led by Genting Singapore Plc, and which broke ground in February and is slated for completion of its first phase in 2017.
According to local media reports, South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism has received a total of 34 proposals for new casino resorts from local and international companies. The government has said it looking to issue at least two new casino licences by the end of 2015.
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"I am not going to speculate on what the [casino licence refreshment] tender requirements would be. I have full confidence and faith in the Macau government to treat everyone fairly"
Wilfred Wong Ying Wai
President and chief operating officer of Macau-based casino operator Sands China