Korea was aiming for 200,000 Chinese visitors to Pyeongchang Olympics. Only 20,000 came.

It’s still dark times for South Korean duty-free shop owners

South Korea reportedly welcomed some 1.4 million tourists for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics last month, though not quite as many visitors from China as they were hoping.

Prior to the event, South Korea said that it expected some 200,000 Chinese tourists to visit the eastern city of Pyeongchang for the games, providing a much-needed boost to the number of travelers from the Middle Kingdom visiting the country after Beijing banned tour groups from going to South Korea last year as a way of demonstrating its anger at Seoul for deploying the US-built THAAD missile defense system.

However, Korea’s dreams of deep-pocketed Chinese tourists flocking back into the country — which served as a tourist hotspot only a few years ago — appear to have not come. South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper spoke with one South Korean tourist company specializing in serving Chinese travelers which estimated that only 20,000 Chinese tourists had visited Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics.

That’s a particularly pitiful amount considering that the games were ongoing as all of China went on vacation for the Spring Festival holiday, with an estimated 6.5 million tourists traveling abroad during that period. Not to mention the fact that the South Korean government offered Chinese visitors with tickets to the games a 15-day visa-free stay in the country.

However, that number can not actually be confirmed as South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has said that it does not have the statistics for how many Chinese visitors were at the Winter Olympics, though it has reportedly boasted of a double-digit growth in the number of European and American visitors to South Korea.

And so, it appears that it’s still dark times for South Korea’s duty-free shop owners. At the end of October, China and South Korea had pledged to normalize relations following the year-long THAAD standoff, but late last year and early this year, many Chinese tour agencies were still banned from sending tour groups to South Korea.

According to South Korean government data, the number of Chinese people who visited South Korea in January declined 46% on-year to 305,127, marking the 11th straight month in which the country has welcomed fewer Chinese visitors compared with the year prior.

In 2017, just 4.1 million Chinese travelers visited South Korea, half the number from the year before when more than 50% of South Korea’s 17 million incoming tourists were from China.

Of course, China’s poor Olympic attendance also probably has to do with the fact that the country doesn’t really care about the Winter Games, something that Beijing is hoping to change in four years time, when the city will host the event — almost certainly with the help of artificial snow.