Korean casinos hope Chinese tourism agreement provides trade boost

By Noah Taylor Updated
Wakayama provides clarity on financial investors in integrated resort

A business agreement between China’s largest travel agency and the Korean Tourism Organisation could provide a much needed boost to the country’s tourism sector.

Asgam reports that according to Seoul’s SEN TV, signing of the agreement between Trip.com and the Korea Tourism Organisation is expected to coincide with the upcoming visit to Korea by Chinese president Xi Jinping, currently planned for late June or early July.

The goal is to promote a Korea-China tourism exchange.

China has long been South Korea’s largest tourism source market but has yet to recover from the fallout of the THAAD missile crisis of 2017, which saw China issue an official boycott on tourism to South Korea, including a ban on all tour groups.

The result was a 50 per cent decline in Chinese visitation, from 8.1 million in 2016 to 4.2 million in 2017, recovering only to six million by 2019.

Among those to feel the pain were Korea’s 16 foreigner-only casino operators, who remain at the mercy of international visitation.

This represents all but one of Korea’s 17 casinos, with only Kangwon Land, some two hours east of Seoul by car, allowing locals gambling.

Paradise Co, Korea’s leading foreigner-only casino operator with three casinos in Seoul and Busan, plus its Paradise City integrated resort in Incheon, reported losses of US$17.7 million in 2017 and even more in 2018, but crept back into a narrow profit of US$12.3 million in 2019.

That was short lived however, with US$100 million of loss in 2020 following the coronavirus pandemic.

Any deal with Trip.com would come as a timely boost given the events of the past year, the report said.

“We are preparing various plans with various possibilities regarding Korea-China tourism exchange,” a Trip.com representative told SEN TV.

“As one of them, we are also discussing agreements with the Tourism Organisation, but nothing has actually been promoted.”

Revenues fall at South Korea’s foreigner-only casinos

The operator of South Korea foreigner-only casinos said that its sales declined by more than one third in January, with year-on-year sales down almost two-thirds.

GGR Asia reported in March that Paradise Co said its January sales fell 36.2 per cent month-on-month and 61.8 per cent when compared to a year ago.

The group’s January casino revenue amounted to US$24.5 million, a decrease on the US$38.2 billion achieved in December and down further than the US$63.9 billion achieved last January.

Machine-game sales for January were up 28.7 per cent compared to December, but down more than 54 per cent compared to the prior year.

Paradise Co’s gaming operators include Walkerhill in Seoul, Jeju Grand on Jeju Island, Busan Casino in Busan and Paradise City in Incheon, near the company’s main international airport.

Paradise Casino Walkerhill had reopened on January 4, having been closed since December 15 as a COVID-19 countermeasure.

Caesars under pressure to finish South Korea casino

Caesars Entertainment is racing to finish an integrated resort project in South Korea or risk forfeiting its licence.

Casino.org reported in February that the casino giant is rushing to finish its Midan City resort on Yeonjong Island.

Construction of the $700 million project has been halted since February 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Nevada-based gaming company has committed $140 million to the project and is partnering on it with China’s Guangzhou R&F Properties.

But additional financing has been hard to procure.

Just 25 per cent of the construction work is complete.

Reports surfaced last week that authorities in Seoul are growing tired of the lack of progress on the endeavour and are giving Caesars two months to get its house in order or risk losing the gaming permit.

The US gaming company was approved for the project in 2014.

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