Tour guides here are taking the brunt from a Chinese boycott and ban on "zero dollar" shopping tours to Korea.
According to the Korea Tourist Guide Association, an estimated 3,000 Chinese-speaking tour guides or 40 percent are without work over the Chinese measures, which come in retaliation for Korea's decision to deploy a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery from the U.S. here.
Some have taken on other part-time jobs to make ends meet. One 52-year-old tour guide on Jeju Island says he has been helping out in his friend's restaurant after his monthly assignments dwindled to one or two groups.
Ryu Hae-kyong (51) has been luckier since she worked as a Japanese-speaking tour guide for 10 years and only switched to Chinese in 2014, so she went back to guiding Japanese tourists last month.
"Until last year, tour guides would say that Japanese tourists have dwindled and the future is in Chinese tour groups, but now the opposite is happening," she said.
A street on Jeju Island usually crowded with Chinese tourists is empty on March 15.
At private institutes that train tour guides, the classes are emptying. A staffer at Sejong Institute of Language said, "Last year, more than 1,200 students signed up for the Chinese-language tour guide class, but the number is down to 200 now."
The number of applicants for Chinese-speaking tour guide license tests administered by the Human Resources Development Service of Korea rose from 370 in 2011 to 2,468 in 2014. But they fell to 1,418 late last year amid the THAAD spat.
The HRDSK decided to administer the exam only once this year instead of twice. One staffer at a private crammer in Jongno said, "We may not even be able to pay our instructors."