South Korean casinos eagerly await end to Chinese tourism spat


gongzi-jeju-casino-launch-china-touristsGongzi Jeju, the newest foreigners-only casino on South Korea’s Jeju island, held its official grand opening on Sunday.

The Gongzi Jeju Casino, which is based within the Ramada Plaza Jeju Hotel complex, held a “pre-launch gala ceremony” in April following the completion of a lengthy renovation and rebranding from its previous identity as the Ramada Plaza Jeju Casino.

The new property boasts a 40k-square-foot gaming floor featuring 45 gaming tables and 24 electronic gambling machines. The official launch party (see video at bottom of page), which was bumped from its original June 26 date, saw invited guests treated to a lion dance, laser show, K-pop singers and a gala dinner.

Gongzi Jeju chief operating officer Lysa Evans said the property owner’s vision was “to create a gaming experience in a location that was accessible, with fantastic natural scenery and relaxing entertainment.”

As all but one of South Korea’s casinos prohibit local residents from setting foot on their gaming floors, Gongzi Jeju’s operators were keen to point out their venue’s proximity to Jeju’s international airport and shipping docks.

However, since March, South Korea’s casinos have suffered from the ongoing diplomatic spat between South Korea and China – Jeju’s traditional main supplier of international tourists – over the deployment of a US anti-missile missile system. Bejing, which traditionally sides with North Korea in international disputes, subsequently put the kibosh on group tours – by air or sea – to Jeju.

According to Jeju Tourism Organization figures, China accounted for 84% of the island’s international tourists in 2016. Following Beijing’s advisory to its citizens to steer clear of South Korea, Jeju’s Chinese tourist numbers fell 56.2% in March and had fallen over 89% by the end of June. In the week spanning June 30 to July 6, Chinese tourist numbers were one-eighth of the volume recorded in the same week last year.

In May, South Korea elected a new government, which suspended deployment of the THAAD missile batteries. Jeju officials had hoped that the decision would result in the resumption of airline service between the island and major Chinese hubs like Beijing and Shenyang, but there’s so far been no sign that Chinese officials are preparing to lift the embargo.