HONG KONG • The number of tourists using the week-long national holiday to visit South Korea plunged 70 per cent this year, said China's largest travel website Ctrip.com International.
The drop in numbers is the latest sign of an economic fallout over the differing approaches to North Korea taken by South Korea and China.
South Korea did not make the top 20 destinations for the more than six million Ctrip users travelling abroad during the "Golden Week" holiday, which began last Friday. The country was ranked No. 1 during the same period last year, the firm said.
Thailand rose from the No. 2 spot to become this year's top destination for Ctrip's 300 million users.
About a fifth of outbound Chinese travellers were visiting Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai, the firm said. Japan and Singapore were the most popular destinations after Thailand.
Chinese tourists were expected to spend about 9,800 yuan (S$2,000) each, and were more willing to pay for experiences rather than consumer goods, the report said.
Chinese travellers spent US$261 billion (S$356 billion) overseas last year. And more of them are also opting for staycations - a boon for domestic tourism operators.
While about six million people will travel abroad for the National Day holiday, about 710 million Chinese will make trips within the country, said Ctrip.
Some overseas destinations have also taken a hit over security concerns, industry insiders said, with attacks in Europe, instability on the Korean peninsula and political uncertainty in the United States weighing down on tourist demand.
"I think one of the most important factors why people like to travel within the country is because of lots of unexpected incidents such as terrorist attacks in recent years," said an official with the surname Zhou at travel firm Leyou.
"People feel it could be very dangerous to travel overseas."
Ties between China and South Korea have soured since Seoul agreed last year to let its ally, Washington, install a missile-defence system to guard against rockets fired by North Korea.
China views the so-called Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system as a threat that will upset the "strategic equilibrium in the region".
The South Korean government has also consistently asked China to remove curbs on its retail and tourism companies, with some consumers in China boycotting South Korean goods. Seoul last month said it is considering legal action, such as filing a complaint with the World Trade Organisation.