South Korean businesses are sprucing up to receive Chinese tourists during the Lunar New Year holidays, hoping the free-spending visitors bring a welcome boon to their otherwise slow business.
Shops, hotels and restaurants in downtown Seoul put up new signs and banners inscribed with New Year greetings in Chinese, rearranged displays and hired Chinese speaking interpreters.
"Sales to Chinese tourists tripled in the past two years. This contributed greatly to the increase in our overall sales," a spokesman for Lotte Duty Free shop in the busy Myeongdong commercial district said Saturday on YTN TV.
Lotte Duty Free reported 2011 sales of 1.02 trillion won ($895 million), up 23 percent from the previous year, as a surge in Chinese customers was more than enough to make up for a fall in sales to South Koreans.
"I bought some Korean cosmetic products, a rice cooker and some other home appliances," one Chinese tourist said, adding she spent some $3,500 at the duty free shop alone.
A shopkeeper selling bags at Seoul's famous South Gate open-air market said the free-spending Chinese were his best customers.
Chinese tourists are big spenders. Some snap up 10 bags at a time," the 56-year-old man, identified only as Mr. Lee, told the Chosun Ilbo daily.
A manager at a Myeongdong clothes shop said he had changed layouts to suit to Chinese tastes and put up a sign saying "Chinese translation available."
"Some of them buy a whole bunch of clothes worth a million or two million won at one go," he told the daily.
Chinese are also visiting Seoul clinics for plastic surgery during the holidays.
"We usually have six to seven Chinese patients a month, but we have the same number of Chinese during the week of Lunar New Year holidays," a clinic official told the Chosun.
Seoul's embassy in China said 1.54 million Chinese had visited South Korea in the first nine months to September last year, making South Korea the main destination for Chinese tourists, excluding Hong Kong and Macau.
Until 2010, Japan was the favourite with Chinese tourists before it was hit by a devastating tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster in 2011, according to the embassy.