Shanghai tour agents get O.K.

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Shanghai tour agents get O.K.

BEIJING - At least four major tour agencies in Shanghai were told by the Chinese government Wednesday they are allowed to sell group tour packages to Korea again, with some restrictions, a source at the Beijing branch of the Korea Tourism Organization told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it wasn’t clear yet whether the ban on group tours to Korea has been lifted for other companies in Shanghai as well.

The four agencies that can send their clients to Korea will still face more restrictions than before Beijing began retaliating against Seoul for its decision to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system.

Agencies won’t be able to promote any group tour packages to Korea online or in newspapers, and they’re still banned from taking customers to Korea on cruise ships or chartered planes. Agencies are prohibited from including Lotte-related establishments on their tours, such as guiding tourists to Lotte Duty Free shops.

Lotte gave up a golf course in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, which became the Thaad site.

China never formally admitted to the ban, but its travel agencies have been forced to stop offering group tours to Korea since March 15, 2017, apparently in retaliation for Korea’s decision to deploy Thaad.

China began to lift the ban for travel agencies in some areas last year. Beijing and Shangdong Province had their bans lifted last November, followed by Hubei Province and Chongqing in May. The inclusion of Shanghai is expected to help Korea’s tourism industry, given the fact that high-income areas in eastern China used to make up one-third of all Chinese tourists to Korea before the Thaad retaliations.

According to Chinese government data, 282,600 Chinese tourists arrived in Korea from January to June this year, 11.4 percent higher than the same period last year. Korea brought in nearly 401 trillion won ($358 billion) in revenue from them during the first six months of this year, 12.5 percent higher than January to June 2017.

BY SHIN KYUNG-JIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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