South Korea Targets Southeast Asian Cruisers

South Korea
Cheonggyecheon River in downtown Seoul, South Korea.

Published Sep 2, 2017 6:02 PM by Noel Tarrazona

The South Korean government has laid out strategies for attracting cruise tourists from Southeast Asia.

Oceans Minister Kim Young-Choon announced that the government aims to have three million cruise tourists by 2020, and Southeast Asia, as one of the world’s fastest growing regions, is a potentially important market.

Last year South Korea hosted 1.95 million cruise tourists, so three million is possible with the development of the Southeast Asian market. The region has a population of 640 million and a $3 trillion economy.

The government plans to increase the number of cruise-accommodating ports from eight to 16 and passenger terminals from four to seven by 2020.  It also plans to streamline immigration procedures and to offer visa-free entry for foreign travelers.

Kim said Southeast Asia is already a growing market and the reason why South Korea is joining the Asia Cruise Cooperation this year. Five Asia cruise destinations, Hainan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan and Xiamen, launched the Asia Cruise Cooperation last year with the aim of maximizing the growth of cruise tourism in Asia. The Cooperation will support cruise lines in Asia by facilitating itinerary development, sharing industry and market insights, enhancing cruise lines' marketing efforts with funding support and creating consumer demand for cruising.

As well as Southeast Asia, the South Korean government is looking at Hong Kong and Taiwan as potential markets. According to Kim, two cruise ships from Taiwan made a port call in Busan in July, and two more port calls are planned for September.

The influx of Chinese tourists dropped off rapidly when South Korea allowed the U.S. to set up its missile defense system in the nation. Beijing, then discouraged its nationals from visiting. Last March 11, around 3,400 Chinese tourists on board Costa Serena refused to disembark from their cruise ship in protest of the installation designed to counter North Korea’s nuclear weapons plans. China continues to ban tour companies from selling package tours to South Korea.

South Korea’s cruise industry made $4.43 billion in sales in 2016. This generated 20,000 jobs for locals but, without China, accounting for nearly half of its tourists and therefore a major source of revenue, the industry faces long-term depression.

"In light of the difficulties from such developments, it's time for us to look again at our policies and prepare for the future so that the industry can develop more strongly," Kim was quoted as saying by the Korean Press.

Globally, there are 24 million cruise travelers, and China expects to double its cruise travelers from two million to 4.5 million by 2020.