Differences in national strength or national character… The “reality and reasons” why popular overseas tourist destinations are now “full of Koreans. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Differences in national strength or national character… The “reality and reasons” why popular overseas tourist destinations are now “full of Koreans.

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More and more Koreans are flooding into places that used to be popular with the Japanese.

The new COVID-19 crisis has finally calmed down, and domestic travel by Japanese people is once again booming. On the other hand, the pace of resumption of overseas travel remains slow. In addition to the main factors such as the “weak yen,” “high fuel surcharges,” “soaring airfares,” and the “situation in Ukraine,” we also hear voices such as “my employer prohibits overseas travel,” “it is difficult to go because of the eyes of others,” and “there are few tours that I can casually join.

In place of these Japanese, “Koreans” are now the most frequently seen Asian travelers overseas. In particular, some places that used to be popular with the Japanese are now being replaced by Koreans.

Why do Koreans actively travel abroad and why are they able to do so? The author, who has already traveled abroad more than five times after Corona, reports on the situation, including what he has heard from people involved in the local travel industry.

Guam used to be a standard travel destination for Japanese people. Today, the Hotel Okura has been replaced by the Lotte Hotel and the duty-free store at the airport by Lotte Duty Free (Photo: AFLO)

Koreans move quickly after the ban on overseas travel is lifted, with younger age groups preferring “overseas over money.

Paris, France, last April (2022). At that time, Japan still required PCR testing and submission of a negative certificate before returning home. Korean tourists waiting to enter Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and other department stores in Paris were all over the place. Incidentally, in front of Corona, it was Chinese tourists. At popular tourist spots such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum, there were many Koreans among the Westerners.

Passengers bound for Amsterdam lined up at the boarding gate. In April 2022, there were already tourists among business and study abroad travelers.

I had a hunch that there would be many Koreans on the flight to Amsterdam. The author boarded a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight from Osaka to Amsterdam via Seoul. In fact, the flight was originally a direct flight, but due to the situation in Ukraine, it was reduced and changed to via Seoul. There were many empty seats between Osaka and Korea, and the flight was almost full in Seoul.

Onboard an Asiana Airlines flight from Seoul to Singapore. June 2022

Two months later, in June, I went to Singapore via Seoul. The Asiana Airlines flight to and from Seoul was full both ways. Despite being a Monday, this flight was also full of young people. I often saw them enjoying sightseeing in Singapore at Merlion Park and many other popular areas.

The Japanese passport, which allows visa-free travel to 193 countries and regions, continues to reign as the “world’s strongest” for the fifth consecutive year. And in second place are South Korea and Singapore. However, the percentage of Japanese passport holders is 17.3% (Ministry of Foreign Affairs passport statistics for 2022) and declining year by year.

Thailand is full of Koreans too! The transportation capacity, which can be seen from the airplanes, is also dramatically different.

When I traveled to Thailand in January and February after the new year, I also witnessed a large number of Koreans.

At the arrival gate of Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, I was surprised to see “Hangul” on the plates with the names of Thai people who greeted me. Moreover, a closer look at the arriving and departing flights shows that while ANA and JAL use the mid-size “787” aircraft, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines use the ultra-large “A380” aircraft. The only Japanese carrier was Peach Aviation, which began service at the end of last year. The number of aircraft and the number of flights made us realize that supply and demand are very different.

An Asiana Airlines A380 departing from Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, with a Jin Air 737 in the background.

In Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, the situation was even more pronounced. There are four flights a day to Korea, and Korean Air operates them with its midsize A330 aircraft. The only Japan route was the Osaka service (three flights a week at the time) operated by Thai Vietjet, which had newly started service in mid-February.

Local travelers all said, “The past few months have already been full of Koreans. At golf courses, signs could not be put up in time, so Korean was displayed on electronic signage, and Korean could be heard everywhere in the night markets.

Passengers line up at Chiang Mai Airport in Thailand to check in for flights to Korea. On the cart is a golf bag. february 2023

The reason why Koreans are more eager than Japanese to revisit overseas travel. LCCs are also a factor.

Why are Koreans so eager to travel abroad in the first place? Here is a summary of what I heard in Korea when I visited the country last fall.

First of all, South Korea is a small country. This is understandable considering that South Korea and North Korea were originally one country. With the current land area, there is not much difference in climate. When I could only travel domestically due to the COVID-19 crisis, the only place I could go was Jeju Island,” he said, and it seems that his enthusiasm for overseas travel was considerable.

Merlion Park in Singapore. There were so many young Korean tourists taking selfies here in June 2022.

In addition, Korean incomes are rising to the extent that Koreans say they want to go to Japan because everything is cheaper there. On the other hand, however, prices are also rising, and it is difficult to say whether all Koreans have become richer. Still, many young people are willing to “go on overseas trips even if they have to borrow money” to make up for the COVID-19 crisis that prevented them from going. As more and more people travel abroad, they do not need to worry about what others think. This can be said to be a difference in national character.

The rush to launch Korean LCCs is also spurring overseas travel. The cheaper fares of LCCs, and the more competition they face, the lower the cost of travel. Korean LCCs are now flying to Guam, Saipan, and Cebu, all of which used to attract many Japanese travelers. In Guam, the Hotel Okura is now the Lotte Hotel, and the duty-free store at the airport has been replaced by Lotte Duty Free.

The slow pace of resumption of overseas travel is not only due to financial problems…

On the other hand, Japanese tourists are scarce everywhere they go. You can still see them on direct flights to and from Japan, but they are very rare in tourist spots. Even at immigration procedures at Japanese airports, the Japanese-only lanes are usually empty. In particular, there are no tourists hovering around with tour conductors’ flags in the foreground.

In addition to the weak yen, prices in Japan are slowly rising while wages remain low for most people. The population is aging and economic growth is unlikely. When people can no longer afford even their daily lives, fewer people can afford to travel abroad, which is more expensive than before. Many people may find it difficult to take time off from work on a regular basis, and even if they are told that their company has lifted the ban on overseas travel, they may be reluctant to take the plunge for a while.

Departure information at Kansai International Airport. Excluding code-share flights, the only Japanese-affiliated airline is Peach’s flight to Taipei in February 2023.

It is not only a financial problem. Another difference between Japan and Korea is that Japan offers “a lot of fun in domestic travel. With its abundance of beautiful nature, hot springs, and local cuisine, many people are reminded by the COVID-19 crisis of the appeal of domestic travel, saying, “I don’t have to go out of my way to go abroad.

Although they have been neighbors for a long time, Japan and South Korea are “similar but different” in every respect. The differences in their attitudes toward overseas travel are also clearly reflected in the differences in their national power, economic strength, and national character.

  • Text and photos Shikama Aki (except where noted)

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