New reports indicate that any progress made on reversing the Chinese ban on travel to South Korea has been undone. The move also comes less than a month after South Korean president Moon Jae-in’s visit to China, which was meant to repair ties between the two countries—ties that China originally severed after South Korea’s decision to deploy the THAAD missile defense system.
According to South Korea’s inbound travel agency, quoted in Reuters, China has once again put the tourism ban into effect. While the preceding situation was far from restored to the pre-ban period in tourism between the two countries, tour agencies in Beijing and Shandong had been allowed to start taking Chinese tourists to South Korea. Other source markets, as well as online travel agencies (OTAs), were expected to follow as part of a gradual restoration of tourism ties. Instead, the opposite situation has now arisen, with Beijing and Shandong-based travel agencies pulling all South Korea travel packages once again.
However, it is clear that it isn’t individual tour agencies in Beijing and Shandong that made the ultimate decision to cancel sales of such travel products. Rather, initial reports indicate that Chinese authorities refused to grant tour group travellers approval for their trips to South Korea—a requirement for group travel.
It remains unclear if China has once again put a blanket ban on all tour group travel to South Korea, or if only certain travel agencies are affected. According to officials at the Naeil Tour Agency quoted by Reuters, their Chinese partners won’t be able to send travelers to South Korea as of January. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency also reports of another tour agency, Haitiao Travel, which had sent a tour group to South Korea soon after the ban was lifted. Their second tour group, due to arrive in South Korea last week (January 05), eventually ended up getting canceled after Chinese tourism authorities had failed to greenlight the tour. However, other sources quoted by the news agency claim that “major” Chinese tour agencies continue selling tours to South Korea without any problem.
The decision to reinstate the ban on group tours to South Korea could also prove devastating for the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which will be held in South Korea next month.
South Korea had hoped to ease tensions before the Olympics take place, and China’s decision to resume travel to the country was considered a big step in the right direction. With the ban seemingly reinstated, critical tourism revenue generated from Chinese travellers visiting the country for the Olympics could turn out even more limited than previously anticipated.
Without any official confirmation from China regarding the state of its tourism ban, details about the exact ramifications of the probable continuation of its travel ban remain unclear.