THE Hong Kong and South Korean governments have signed a confidential memorandum of understanding to increase the number of weekly flights between the territory and Seoul by more than 18 per cent to cope with excessive passenger demand. Demand for flights between the two cities had accelerated so much since the relaxation on foreign travel in South Korea two years ago, that both governments felt impelled to act. The two governments last increased the maximum number of passenger seats allowed each week between Hong Kong and Seoul in May last year. But passenger demand for seats has once again been outstripping the maximum each country's flag carriers have been allowed to supply. After two days of talks in Seoul, there is a new confidential memorandum of understanding under the existing joint air services agreement between Britain and South Korea. The details of such agreements in the aviation industry are normally kept under wraps for competitive reasons, but on this occasion South Korea's Ministry of Transportation has broken its usual silence. It said the two governments had agreed to expand the maximum number of available seats on the Hong Kong-Seoul route by 600 to 5,950 a week. Starting from July 1 next year, the number of seats would increase again to 6,650 a week. Cathay Pacific Airways, Korean Air Lines and Asiana Airlines have all been quick to exploit the new deal, announcing plans for additional Hong Kong-Seoul services starting in the New Year. Korean Air is to increase the frequency of its flights from the present 14 a week to 16, while Asiana Airlines is to step up its weekly flights from five to seven, starting from January 1 next year. Cathay Pacific currently operates twice daily to Seoul. From January 5, it will introduce an extra three flights a week, departing Hong Kong on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The news has been welcomed by the Hong Kong Tourist Association, which said it would come as a boon to the territory's shopkeepers and retailers. The Seoul-Hong Kong agreement would also help South Korea reduce its deficit in the travel sector, a South Korean ministry spokesman said. During the first 10 months of this year, 137,083 Koreans travelled to Hong Kong, up 21.4 per cent from a year earlier, and 129,071 Hong Kong residents visited South Korea, a spectacular rise of 93.3 per cent. The expanded flight arrangements between Hong Kong and South Korea should also be a boost to trade ties. Some 48 per cent of South Korean visitors to Hong Kong last year were business travellers, 44 per cent tourists and the remainder either visiting friends and relatives or en route to somewhere else. The Hong Kong and South Korean Governments have also now agreed on the text for a new air services agreement for after 1997, which will be presented to the Joint Liaison Group for Beijing's approval. The existing confidential memorandum of understanding between Hong Kong and South Korea comes under the UK-South Korea air services agreement, which will no longer be valid after the territory's transfer of sovereignty.