Workers in the South Korean resort town of Pyeongchang are making final preparations for the Winter Olympics in a big burst of activity that masks a giant problem.
SOUTH KOREA (REUTERS) – It is bustling in Athens, where thousands gathered to watch the Olympic flame be handed over for 2018.
But in the mountainous resort town of Pyeongchang, South Korea – where the winter games will take place in less than 100 days – it is eerily quiet.
Alarmingly so for locals, some who have spent millions of dollars preparing their businesses for the Olympic boom – and it is all because of tensions with North Korea.
A merchant at Sokcho Tourism & Fishery Market, Han Do Sam, says: “We hope things will improve soon and encourage more foreign tourists to visit for the Olympics.”
Barely a third of the game’s tickets have been sold so far.
With Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump trading threats back and forth, local authorities say tourists are reluctant to commit to the Olympics – which open on Feb 9 just 80km away from the world’s most heavily fortified border.
But it is not just North Korea that is causing the slump – political tensions with Beijing are also a major factor.
Bus terminal owner in Pyeongchang, Kim Moo Gyu, says: “There are almost no Chinese tourists here compared to last year.”
Despite a move this week to re-kindle relations, the number of Chinese visitors to South Korea slashed by more than half in the past few months, strained by the deployment of Washington’s controversial Thaad anti-missile system.
Local businesses say they are continuing to see declining tourism numbers, and many are already seeing significant losses ahead of the Olympics.
Organisers are hoping athletes from North Korea, still technically at war with the South, will take part and share the stage with American and Chinese athletes, although the North has yet to confirm if it will send a team.
For now, all locals can do is put on a brave face and hope for a late boom, as the days tick down towards the winter games.