Today I had an interesting experience that really made me mad.
I was walking in Myeong-dong (Seoul’s huge shopping area geared towards tourists), and a man was handing out balloons to promote the store 8 Seconds. A little boy walked up to him to get a balloon and when he said ‘Thank you’ in Korean the man instantly took the balloon from him. He told the boy “중국인만. 한국인 안돼 (Only Chinese people. No Korean people). While I was shocked that the man took a balloon from a little boy, I could somewhat understand wanting to only give promotional items to foreigners.
Now here is what made me furious. When I met my friend I casually mentioned what I saw earlier. She angrily told me, “I was walking past him and made eye contact with that man. I didn’t walk towards him, or reach out my hand to get a balloon. All I did was make eye contact. However he instantly yelled out to me in English ‘Only Chinese’. I didn’t want his stupid balloon.”
This really made me furious, because I started to realize South Korea’s bias towards Chinese tourists. South Korea has recently had a huge boom in tourism mainly due to the Hallyu Wave. The Hallyu Wave is the sudden increase in the popularity of South Korean culture (K-Pop, K-Dramas, fashion, plastic surgery, and cosmetics). China is without a doubt the largest contributors to the quickly expanding tourism sector in South Korea. However, Korea has also seen a huge increase in foreigners from all over the world.
When I first came to Korea in 2013 in the tourist areas it was commonplace to see signs for stores and restaurants posted in English, Chinese, Korean, and something Japanese. For those who don’t speak Korean, places like Myeong-dong were easy to shop and eat in. I was able to walk into most stores and see either signs in English, or even a worker who spoke English. However, after my experience today I started to take notice of these same stores and restaurants just two years later. I realized that more than half of the stores had promotional signs posted ONLY in Chinese, not even a word of Korean was printed, most going so far as to higher Chinese store assistants.
I understand the logic behind marketing towards Chinese Tourist, especially since the average Chinese tourist spend $2,000 in South Korea. (That’s more than double what the average Japanese tourist spends.) However, I cannot understand the logic behind completely neglecting every other tourist, and even Korean people.
Recently my Korean friends have the same complaints I do. More than one of my Korean friends have gone to stores, asked questions, and were unable to receive an answer because the store assistant did not speak Korean, only Chinese. On more than one occasion I have been ignored when I enter these stores to make my monthly makeup purchase. I became so ignored by the lack of customer service that I received in multiple locations of Etude House, that I decided to change make-up brands and make my purchases at a competitor, Innis Free. Several of my Korean friends now shop for their makeup online from third party sellers, and even refuse to go to places like Myeong-Dong.
I have absolutely no problem with these companies marketing towards Chinese tourists. They absolutely should. But I cannot understand how these companies can be so rude and neglectful to other tourists, and even Korean people. Several of these companies have lost my loyalty, and I’m sure the loyalty of many others.