Chinese airlines cut South Korean routes amid political stand-off
Flight operators join cruise lines in curtailing trips to near neighbour
Economic ties between Beijing and Seoul continue to decline with various tour agencies suspending visa applications for South Korea and airlines cutting routes between the two countries.
Tensions have escalated amid a row over Seoul’s plan to deploy a US anti-missile defence system despite Beijing’s objections.
A visa specialist with Guangzhou-based Jinma Travel said on Friday that it was still taking visa applications but travel agents would not be able to arrange trips to South Korea for mainland tourists from March 15.
Jinma signed up more than 1,000 people for tours during a recent travel fair but was now having to organise refunds or alternative destinations such as Japan for those travellers.
Because the changes were due to “national policy” and not the actions of an individual company, travellers would not qualify for compensation, according to Jinma staff.
The series of restrictive measures will begin to take effect from March 15 until “both nations have reached an agreement” over their disputes, according to industry sources. Tours before that date would be unaffected.
Another Guangzhou-based travel company is advising customers heading to South Korea to go via Hong Kong.
“You can book your own direct tickets and hotels [in South Korea] but you are doing so at your own risk because you might be banned from leaving [the mainland],” Guangzhou travel company manager Deborah Wang said.
The National Tourism Administration last week warned tourists heading to South Korea to “carefully select” their destination.
In a statement on its website, South Korea’s Eastar Jet said it was stopping flights between Cheongju and Jeju in South Korea and cities in China, including Ningbo and Harbin.
The announcement followed a decision by Carnival’s Costa Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruises to cancel South Korean port visits by their China-based cruises. Royal Caribbean cited “recent developments regarding the situation in South Korea”.
Many online travel agents such as Ctrip have pulled South Korean offerings from their sites while a number of mainland airlines have also cancelled flights to South Korean cities. China Eastern Airlines has terminated services from Ningbo to Jeju and Cheongju from March 15. Spring Airlines is also suspending its services from Ningbo to Jeju from March 16 to 26 and Okay Airways is putting similar arrangements in place from Wednesday.
“It is expected that the volume of Chinese tourists heading to South Korea will fall by at least half,” Wang said.
Anti-Seoul sentiment has surfaced in several mainland cities in the past week, including small protests in Chongqing \ and Chengdu outside Lotte-owned malls. The Seoul-based conglomerate offered land in South Korea for the anti-missile defence system.
On the sidelines of the National People’s Congress yesterday, Zhang Mao, head of the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, said Lotte had also been penalised according to Chinese law over illegal advertising and pricing problems.
Additional reporting by Reuters