Incheon courts Indian travelers

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Incheon courts Indian travelers


Officials including Chung Il-young, CEO of Incheon International Airport Corporation, fourth from left, and heads of Korean Air and Asiana Airlines’ Indian branch participate in signing of a memorandum of understanding to increase the number of transfer passengers passing through Incheon Airport in New Delhi, India, on Saturday. [INCHEON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT CORPORATION]

After China banned its travel agencies from arranging group tours to Korea, the nation’s main transportation hub, Incheon International Airport, is looking to the world’s next largest country - India - to fill the gap.

Incheon International Airport Corporation on Saturday signed a memorandum of understanding with India’s largest travel agency, TUI India, to develop travel packages that use Incheon as a stopover on long-haul flights between America and India.

The move comes as Korea is experiencing a steep decline in tourism after the Chinese government ordered local travel agencies last month to stop selling group tours to Korea. The measure is ostensibly a response to the Korean government’s decision last July to deploy a controversial U.S. missile shield that China sees as threatening to its national security.

The result has been a roughly 31 percent decrease in the number of passengers on Chinese routes, according to Incheon Airport. “As part of our efforts to minimize damage from reduced Chinese demand, we will focus on creating new demand by cooperating in various ways with India’s tourism agencies and airlines,” said Chung Il-young, CEO of the airport.

The company selected India as a viable option because of its high potential and population of 1.3 billion. “India is home to roughly 18 million overseas travelers, and the number is highly expected to grow further considering the figure is only 1.4 percent of the world’s second most populous country,” the airport said.


Air traffic between the two countries has been rising with the number of flight options available. In October 2015, the two governments agreed to increase the number of flights per week to 19 from six.

As a result, the nation’s two largest airline companies, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, added seven new flights per week last year to bring the total to 13 per week bound for two of India’s key cities: Delhi and Mumbai. Delhi has been spotlighted as a new hub for Korean business as Indian units of major conglomerates like Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and Hyundai Motor are located there.

The number of passengers flying between Korea and India has increased 14 percent from 152,671 in 2015 to 173,866 last year, according to data compiled by the airport.

“While increasing overall traffic between the two countries, we would like to focus specially on making Incheon a transfer hub for travelers departing from India to America,” Incheon Airport said.

Currently, 90 percent of travelers heading to America from India have to stop at airports in Europe or the Middle East for transfer, but with the partnership with TUI India, the Korean airport aims to bring stopover demand to Incheon. “We have a good chance considering the geographical benefits and high-quality airport facilities and services we can provide to transferring travelers,” the airport said.

The total distance between India and the United States is also shorter via the Pacific than flying over the Middle East or Europe, the airport added.

Other transportation hubs in the country are also seeking new markets to fill the void of Chinese tour groups, which Korea’s tourism industry has long depended on for the bulk of its revenue.

The Busan Port Authority, which operates cruise ships, said Monday it would expand service to key cities in Japan from 32 this year to 50 next year to reduce its heavy dependence on Chinese customers. Roughly six out of 10 passengers from abroad were Chinese before the travel ban. According to the port authority, service on 94 cruises was canceled since the ban was enforced last month, and the number of affected ships is expected to grow.

Business organizations in Korea are also encouraging their member companies travel domestically rather than abroad to assuage the wounds in Korea’s tourism industry.

The Federation of Korean Industries on Friday asked its member companies to hold corporate meetings and training programs in Korea and encourage their employees go on domestic trips during the upcoming national holiday in May.

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