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  1. 2009.04.18 Cheap Won Draws Droves of Japanese Shoppers to Seoul (45)
Seoul Searching2009.04.18 10:51
[Korea Now] The Korean won has dropped about 50 percent in a year

Walk the streets of Myungdong, the famous shopping district in Seoul this winter. There are hundreds of Japanese tourists peering in show windows of fashion boutiques holding piles of shopping bags, Korean sales staff hawking them in perfect Japanese, top Korean restaurants overflowing with Japanese cuisine hunters turning away their loyal Korean customers... You would have been almost transported to middle of Shinjuku, Tokyo.



Seoul has always been a favorite destination for Japanese leisure travelers hunting for a handy weekend trip but cheap Korean won is drawing Japanese visitors in droves to Seoul this winter.

Korean won has dropped to 1,600 won per one 100 yen recently, about 50 percent cheaper than a year ago. Won has unanimously depreciated against US dollar and other major currencies in the wake of global financial crisis but the drop was particularly dramatic against Japanese Yen.

Local stores have begun to see the immediate effect. Lotte Department Store, the top shopping destination for Japanese visitors has reported 12-fold increase in January sales among Japanese shoppers. Its main store in Myungdong alone sold goods to Japanese worth over 9.1 billion won, about 7 percent of its entire revenue.

They mostly shopped for luxury fashion brands, cosmetics and Korean traditional food items.

Shinsegye, another department store in Myungdong reported that 6.3 percent of its January sales has been made from Japanese.

Lotte hired more translators to help uneasy Japanese shoppers and even broadcasted public announcement recorded in Japanese language. 

Some Japanese shoppers are reportedly making multiple trips to Seoul after realizing that air ticket cost can be easily cancelled out if they buy a couple of big ticket luxury items. A typical Louis Vuitton bag would be cheaper by 50 percent in Seoul after counting in exchange rate.

Top Seoul hotels are almost completely occupied by Japanese visitors as well. Lotte Hotel saw its Japanese occupancy rate hovering around 60 percent for the past three months and more upscale Westin Chosun Hotel also increased the ratio of Japanese guests from 20 percent in late last year to 40 percent in February.

Hotels are worried though that near 90 percent of current occupancy rate can drop any time when Japanese visitors begin to see no cheap won any more. Without a constant influx of business travelers, their main revenue contributors, Seoul hotels are vulnerable to the pesky rate fluctuation.

Business travelers shuttling between Seoul and Tokyo are also struggling recently to book any air ticket they can find. Flights for Incheon-Narita and Gimpo-Haneda routes, one of the busiest already in Asia are completely booked this winter due to ever increasing visitors from Japan.

For cash strapped Korean retailers and hotels in Seoul though, hundreds of Japanese tourists walking out of Incheon and Gimpo International Airports seem to be the only bonanza.
Posted by PSB

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