S. Korea may lose nearly $14b in tourism revenue to Mers

SEOUL • The recent outbreak of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) virus in South Korea has left the country's tourist industry in intensive care, with visitor numbers plunging more than 40 per cent in June, according to data released yesterday.

Officials are warning that the cost in lost revenue could be close to US$10 billion (S$13.7 billion).

The year had started off well for the tourist sector, with the number of overseas arrivals in the first five months up 10.7 per cent from the same period in 2014.

But May 20 saw the first diagnosis of a Mers case, kicking off an outbreak that claimed 36 lives and triggered rampant panic at home and mass tour cancellations abroad.

With 186 confirmed cases, it was the largest Mers outbreak outside Saudi Arabia.

With 186 confirmed cases, it was the largest Mers outbreak outside Saudi Arabia. The number of tourists in June plunged 41 per cent from a year earlier to 750,925, the Korea Tourism Organisation said.

The number of tourists in June plunged 41 per cent from a year earlier to 750,925, the state-run Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) said.

The number of mainland Chinese - the biggest spending visitors - was down 45 per cent, while arrivals from Taiwan and Hong Kong were down 76 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively.

"Because of the Mers outbreak, foreign tourists ... shunned visiting this country last month," a KTO spokesman said, adding that the 2015 target of 16.2 million tourists was in serious jeopardy.

With no new Mers infections reported in more than two weeks, KTO and other officials have announced a number of measures to reboot tourism, including waiving visa fees for group travellers from China and South-east Asia.

The hugely popular K-pop industry has also been recruited, with stars signing up for a series of promotional concerts and performances both at home and abroad.

South Korea's economic growth in the three months to June will be "much lower" than the previous quarter due to the Mers outbreak and drought, Finance Minister Choi Kyung Hwan said yesterday.

Domestic demand had been gradually recovering this year, Mr Choi told reporters. "However, the recovery was dampened by the outbreak of Mers and drought," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2015, with the headline 'S. Korea may lose nearly $14b in tourism revenue to Mers'. Print Edition | Subscribe