South Korean duty-free shop owners, we’ve got some bad news.
Beijing has reportedly told major travel agencies to stop selling tours to South Korea in retaliation for Seoul going ahead with installing its THAAD missile defense system. So far, the ban has not been officially announced and it’s not clear how far it reaches, but South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reports that the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) gave travel agencies in Beijing verbal instructions on Thursday to “suspend sales of all travel packages, both online and offline, to South Korea.”
The Financial Times provides additional evidence for the ban:
Wang Ki-young, a director at South Korea’s culture ministry, said on Friday that Chinese authorities had ordered tourism agencies in Beijing to halt tours to South Korea from mid-March. Mr Wang said the move would be expanded to other provinces.
Meanwhile, a salesman from online travel company Tuniu Corp told the Financial Times that it had on Friday “removed all tours to South Korea due to the Thaad issue”. A search for South Korean tours on the website returns the message: “Sorry, we have not found a relevant product.”
Written instructions apparently issued by China’s tourism administration, shown to the FT by one Beijing travel agent, order agencies to cancel group tours to South Korea booked for after March 15 and add that companies not in compliance could be fined or have their licences revoked. The tourism administration was not immediately available for comment.
On its official website, the CNTA has posted a ominous warning to Chinese travelers to be careful when choosing South Korea as a travel destination. While there are still Chinese travel agencies selling tours to South Korea for the month of March, the South Korean tourism industry is preparing for the worst.
Last year, 8.06 million Chinese tourists visited South Korea, spending an average of $2,391 per person. While 60% of Chinese visitors traveled to the country on their own, about half of those are presumed to have purchased tickets with domestic travel agencies. Based on these figures, Korea could lose an estimated $9.63 billion in tourism revenue as a result of the ban, according to the Yonhap.
A travel ban would likely hit duty-free shops the hardest, which rely on deep-pocketed Chinese tourists for 70% of their business. Last month, photos went viral online showing how Chinese travelers regularly trash the Jeju International Airport’s departure hall with an insane amount of packaging from all their duty-free purchases.
Facing a nuclear-obsessed neighbor, Seoul sees the THAAD missile defense system as necessary to its survival. At the same time, Beijing views it as a threat to its own national security and has vowed to take appropriate “countermeasures.”
Along with Kpop performers, Being has also targeted the South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group, which agreed to hand over the land to build the system to the government. State media editorials have encouraged Chinese consumers to boycott the company’s department stores and supermarkets in China, and at least some brave “dancing aunties” have answered the call.
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