People, Travel

MERS Impact on S. Korea Tourism Worse Than Thought

MERS Impact on S. Korea Tourism Worse Than Thought
MERS Impact on S. Korea Tourism Worse Than Thought

As analysts scramble to gauge the likely economic impact of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome on the South Korean economy, Internet searches for MERS point toward a downturn.

Koreans have rushed to the web for information on the viral outbreak with an intensity that has eclipsed searches in the aftermath of the sinking of the Sewol ferry last year, Skift reported.

When the Sewol overturned, killing around 300 people, mostly schoolchildren, the nation plunged into mourning and consumer spending slumped. Internet searches provided an early clue to the possible impact before more conventional economic data emerged.

MERS has killed 25 people as of June 21 in the Asian nation after spreading from the Middle East. Like the Sewol tragedy, MERS is hitting the economy at a time when it had been showing signs of recovery in sentiment.

It has already prompted the central bank to preemptively cut borrowing costs to a record low, even before the emergence of hard data. MERS poses an “imminent risk” to consumption, according to local officials.

MERS is worrying for South Korea because it is scaring away tourists from overseas, with more than 120,000 travelers canceling trips since June 1, according to the ministry of culture, sports and tourism.

Memories of the SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003 resonate with prospective visitors from Hong Kong and mainland China, where hundreds were killed in that outbreak.