In Myeongdong, one of the most famed tourist spots in Seoul, people are feeling the fallout from the new coronavirus outbreak heavily. A new case was confirmed in Korea, Tuesday, pushing the total number of infections to 16; while in China, the epicenter of the outbreak, 425 people have died, and Hong Kong confirmed its first fatality from the virus the same day.
“I only sold three today,” said a vendor of street-food running a stall selling the Korean version of “egg in the basket” (egg cooked in bread) on a street close to a shop run by the Nature Republic, a leading Korean cosmetic company. “Normally, by this hour (right before noon), I would have a long queue of people buying my snacks. Today there is nobody. I used to start my day at 8:30 but now I come at 10.” She is one of the hundreds of street businesses that rely on Chinese tourists, whom Myeongdong’s economy is dependent on ― they have been the predominant inbound tourists to Korea in recent years.
Chinese is the most frequently heard language in Myeongdong and almost all businesses have Chinese-speaking employees to attract tourists. The vendor who refused to disclose her name said her business began a drastic downward turn around the Lunar New Year Holiday, China’s biggest holiday. While some Chinese tourists did come to Korea, the numbers were down sharply due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The main and side streets are not completely deserted ― the Chinese language is still heard and there are some people wearing masks hopping from one shop to another. “Compared to what it used to be, what you see is nothing,” said a pharmacist running a drugstore near the UNESCO building, Monday evening. “Usually, there are so many people that they look like a big wave. And many times, you don’t see your feet because it’s so crowded. But you don’t see that today”
A Korean woman who led a group of Taiwanese tourists said she has almost no Chinese groups and is seeing more and more Taiwanese people cancelling their trips. Her company caters mainly to Taiwanese and Chinese tourists. Businesses have reasons to be worried. They had a painful experience in 2015. “We know what happened during the MERs outbreak,” said Kim In-soo, director of the Myeongdong Special Tourism District Association, representing business owners in the area. The MERs outbreaks in 2015 cut profits by more than half, according to news reports. Kim said the mood during a Monday meeting of local business owners was quite gloomy.
Particularly hard hit are cosmetics and clothing stores, Kim said, adding that Myeongdong is also being shunned by Koreans, making the situation more worrisome. Bad business in Myeongdong is also bad news for the Jung-gu office. While the office is aware of the situation, at the moment all its efforts are channeled toward infection prevention, even opening a temporary clinic to receive walk-in patients with fever.
With the spread of the coronavirus and the government’s recent ban on the entry of foreign nationals who have visited Hubei Province in the past two weeks, the number of Chinese tourists is expected to decrease further.
Source: The Korea Times