South Korea

Promises, promises ... but still no end to China’s ban on group tours to South Korea

Beijing and Seoul have pledged to patch up their differences but there’s no sign of a return to business before the ban

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 11:04am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 10:59pm

A ban on sending Chinese tour groups to South Korea remains in place, more than a month after the two countries pledged to end a year of diplomatic tension over Seoul’s deployment of a US-backed anti-missile system, according to travel agencies.

A representative from South Korean operator Naeil Tour said on Wednesday morning that the ban on group tours into South Korea had not been lifted, Reuters reported.

“I was told by my boss this morning that our Chinese partners [based in Beijing and Shandong] said they won’t send group tourists to South Korea as of January,” the representative said, without giving reasons.

Another travel agent in Beijing told the South China Morning Post that bans on group tours to South Korea remained in place.

“We haven’t heard any updates from the National Tourism Administration so group tours to South Korea remain unavailable,” the agent said.

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But package tours to individual Chinese tourists went back on sale last month, she said.

In March, Beijing ordered travel agencies in China to suspend group tours to South Korea in response to Seoul’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Area Altitude Defence (THAAD) system, a network of radars and interceptors designed to knock out incoming ballistic missiles. Seoul said the system was to ward of rising threats from Pyongyang but Beijing said its could peer through its own defences.

More than 8 million Chinese visited South Korea last year but this year’s total is expected to be about half that figure.

Before the ban, Chinese tourists accounted for about half the revenue of South Korean hotel chains, cosmetics companies, and duty-free shops. Bank of Korea forecast the ban will result in about US$4.5 billion in lost revenue for the tourism industry this year.

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But there have been some signs of a thaw in relations since November when the neighbours agreed to normalise ties – state-owned operator China CYTS Tours featured South Korean trips on its website.

And last month South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that China would allow travel agencies in Beijing and Shandong province to sell package tours to South Korea.

However, the authorities had demanded that the trips not include visits to businesses linked to Lotte Group, the South Korean conglomerate that owns the land where the THAAD system is based.