By Cynthia Kim and Jihoon Lee
SEOUL (Reuters) – Across South Korea, events such as autumn foliage festivals and K-Pop concerts are canceled, and grief-stricken communities are putting off gatherings after a Seoul crowd crush killed at least 154 people, threatening to crimp growth further.
A major K-pop concert called Busan One Asia Festival, set for Sunday and expected to attract around 40,000 people, was canceled, while dozens of regional councils across the country have called off local festivals planned alongside the autumn foliage season and Halloween.
Universities have canceled weekend retreats known as MTs, and the opening event of the two-week Korea Sale Festa, the Korean version of the Black Friday, was called off.
Asia’s fourth-largest economy has entered a period of national mourning that President Yoon Suk-yeol declared will run until Nov. 5., but analysts fear the slump in sentiment caused by the outpouring of grief over the tragedy during Halloween festivities may not fade quickly and bring a lasting impact on the economy similar to 2014, when the Sewol ferry sinking killed more than 295.
“This has come when the consumer sentiment was just turning for the worse, just as when everyone was expecting the rising interest rates will hit consumption further,” said Park Sang-hyun, an economist at HI Investment & Securities. “The impact on sentiment depends on how long the process of the recovery and fix-up of the situation takes.”
In South Korea’s second-largest city, Busan, a major fireworks display planned for Nov. 5 was postponed indefinitely, while the three major retailers Shinsegae, Lotte Shopping and Hyundai Department Store canceled Halloween promotion events. South Korea’s southern resort island of Jeju called off the Jeju Olle Walking Festival, scheduled from Nov 3 to 5.
The Korea Baseball Organization and Korea Volleyball Federation both said there won’t be cheerleaders during its championship series.
Ministries have called off on media luncheon briefings, corporate events are scrapped, and day trips at schools have been put off. The finance ministry on Monday advised officials to cancel “unnecessary private gatherings” in a written notice.
South Korea’s economic growth already decelerated last quarter in response to slowing exports and a weakening currency.
Even as higher rates have strained the country’s short-term money markets, the Bank of Korea signaled it remains committed to boosting borrowing costs, putting consumers in a challenging environment.
Statistics Korea data released on Monday showed the economy was heading into a deepening slump, with the cyclically adjusted leading indicator falling for a third consecutive month in September to 99.2, the lowest since August 2020.
Back in 2014, consumer sentiment declined sharply in May following the sinking of the Sewol ferry, while sales at department stores, the number of cinema goers, and theme park attendance all dropped.
“I was going to take parents and kids to Naejangsan National Park for the fall foliage few days but not anymore. It doesn’t feel right to have fun when so many kids have died and that’s all we see on TV,” said Kim Sun-young,37, a housewife in Seoul.
(Additional reporting by Choonsik Yoo. Editing by Gerry Doyle)