Koreans saying no to vacations in Japan

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Koreans saying no to vacations in Japan

Koreans are canceling trips to Japan as part of a boycott sparked by Japan’s economic retaliations in a diplomatic row over forced wartime labor.

AM Tour, a local travel agency, tentatively shut down tours to Japan on chartered planes on Saturday. It used to offer tours to Japan’s Shimane Prefecture using chartered planes from Korea Express Air.

“Until last week, more than 40 people had booked the tour, but after the start of the ‘Stop traveling Japan’ movement, bookings halved,” a spokesperson from the tour agency said. “We concluded that it’s not effective to maintain the tour program on chartered planes.”

AM Tour’s three- or four-day packages to the Japanese coastal prefecture cost between 499,000 won ($423.12) and 599,000 won depending on the travel period. Chartered planes left for Japan three times a week from June through October.

Shimane Prefecture has been at the center of diplomatic controversy over Korea's easternmost Dokdo islets, which Japan claims and calls Takeshima. In 2005, the prefectural assembly passed a bill designating Feb. 22 as Takeshima Day. The tour agency could have considered that historic background, as well when scrapping the tours.

Larger local travel agencies are also feeling an impact from the boycott of the Japan movement. Korea’s largest outbound travel service operator, Hana Tour, has seen bookings fall significantly for Japan tour packages.

“The number of customers booking tours to Japan amounted to 1,100 people per day on average [before Japan’s export restrictions that started July 4], but from last week the figure declined to roughly 600 to 700 people per day,” a spokesperson for Hana Tour said.

Another large tour agency, Mode Tour, saw its travelers to Japan sink from an average of 1,000 people per day last year to about half recently.

On a well-known travel and shopping community on the Naver platform, a group has formed to promote boycotting travels in Japan.

One member of the group wrote that a “travel boycott could at least strike a blow at Japan’s regional governments.”

“Considering bookings for flights and hotels are done roughly six months or a year prior to actual travel, declines in the number of Korean travelers to Japan could continue until next year,” said Lee Youn-taek, a professor of tourism science at Hanyang University. Lee, however, said the travel decline won’t be that painful to the Japanese government.

“The Shinzo Abe administration made the choice to show Japan’s strength even if it means making a small sacrifice,” Lee said. “Boycotting travel is not enough to make the administration suffer.”

Some even say it will be Korean travel agencies that suffer the most.

According to a source from the local travel industry, Japanese travelers to Korea have been on the rise due to the strong yen.

But anti-Japanese feeling in Korea could result in fewer Japanese visitors too, the source said.

BY KIM YOUNG-JOO, KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]

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