Jeju expects more Chinese tourists

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Jeju expects more Chinese tourists

JEJU - Chinese tourists rushed around a duty-free shop on Sunday afternoon, but instead of the large tourist buses Chinese tour groups favored in the past, there was an assortment of vans in the parking lot.

The once popular Baojian Street, frequented by tourists in the past, is now a shadow of its former self. Yet business owners are noticeably upbeat, as there are indications of a resumption of travel for Chinese group tours to Jeju.

Previously, Beijing banned further package tours to Korea in retaliation against the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system in Korea.

“With the change of administration, I’m looking forward to an improvement to Korea-China relations,” said a 45-year-old jeweler surnamed Hyun, who works on Baojian Street. “Sales fell under half of last year’s, but I’m thinking it’ll take a turn for the better soon.”

With the freezing over of Korea-China relations after the decision by the Korean government to install the Thaad system, signs of a thaw in the travel industry are emerging with the start of the Moon Jae-in administration.

There is speculation that China’s informal sanctions against Korea will be lifted beginning in the latter half of the year, and local governments, along with the tourist industry are preparing for the oncoming wave.

Since March, international flights to China were curtailed at Cheongju International Airport, but a resumption of flights is expected starting in August. Eastar Jet will resume its suspended routes from Cheongju to Shenyang, Shanghai, Harbin, Dalian and Ningbo, starting on August 20.

China Southern Airlines, which suspended their flights to Yanji and Harbin, will resume the Cheongju to Yanji route starting on June 3.

Asiana Airlines previously restarted their Cheongju to Beijing route on April 26.

Eight of the nine international routes at Cheongju airport were destined for China in the past. But with the Chinese travel restrictions, all flights were suspended at the airport beginning from March with the exception of Hangzhou and Yanji. While the airport did operate two routes at Russia’s Kharbarovsk and Vladivostok, they were far from enough to make up for the shortfall of Chinese tourism.

Last year, 99 percent of the 614,060 foreign travelers at the airport were Chinese.

“The prohibitory measures have not yet been terminated, but I’m hearing that in China activities for Korea tourism have resumed,” Lee Jang-yeon, an employee for airport support services for North Chungcheong, said. “It appears airlines are hurriedly resuming regular routes to China following the Korea-China relations thaw.”

Airlines operating at Daegu International Airport, which previously suspended their Chinese routes, are now preparing for a return to normal operations.

Airliners such as Korean Air, Jeju Air, Air Busan and T’way Airlines, which had operated flights between Daegu and China, were in limbo since the Chinese retaliatory measures against Thaad.

“Though the Chinese government has not officially relaxed the travel restrictions, I expect flights to resume continuing from October and for a policy on tourists starting from August,” Choi Cheol-hun, a manager at T’way Airlines said. “I am continuously observing the China situation.”

Local governments are also in the mix, engaging in cultural exchanges and cooperation with their sister cities in China.

According to a Beijing public relations office, which operates travel businesses at Jeju, the Korea-bound travel restrictions are expected to be terminated starting June.

The travel agencies prepared for resumption at a moment’s notice.

China Youth Travel Service, an affiliate company of a top-three Chinese travel agency, said they are prepared for the sales of packages to Korea. The number of Chinese tourists that sought Jeju as of Saturday was 503,557, just under half of the 962,017 figure accounted for last year.

“With the deepening of an atmosphere of bilateral cooperation by dispatching a special envoy and summit discussions, we are looking forward to the resumption of Korea tourism from China,” said Lee Seung-chan, tourism director at Jeju.

“We are pre-emptively preparing for attendance to large events such as the Korean Tourism Organization’s presentation [in Jeju], including a cultural tourism function with the expectation of the lifting of Korean travel restrictions.”

Starting in August, the Incheon Metropolitan government will resume their more than decade-long reciprocal civil servant exchanges with Dalian, which were recently suspended.

Incheon’s relationship with Tianjin will resume and commence with cultural and academic exchanges.

In September, an exhibition for Southeast Asian products will be held in Kunming, China, and include the attendance of Incheon companies.

The Daegu Metropolitan government will likewise host a presentation regarding travel agencies on thematic tourism packages for sales marketing and sports medicine. Between August and September, Daegu will also hold a public relations tour involving Chinese celebrities and media outlets.

“The attraction of Chinese travel groups that froze with China’s travel restrictions for Korea-bound tourism, shows signs of living movement in the stillness,” said Jung Poong-young, director of Culture, Sports and Tourism at Daegu City Hall. “We will do our best to restore the China tourism market with the opening of a variety of Chinese tourism marketing businesses for many Chinese to once again seek Daegu.”

Duty-free shops in Incheon and the Port of Incheon have high expectations with regard to diplomatic thaw. According to the Port of Incheon, last year, the number of cruise ships entering the port was 62, accounting for 165,000 people. This year, there were 43 prepared, but 22 departing from China were canceled.

The port expects an increase in Chinese cruises around the end of June and early July, considering the one to two months necessary for group tour travel visas. As cruises from China start arriving, duty-free shops within the city are hoping for higher sales.

“After the restriction of Korea travel measures, Chinese tourists hardly ever come,” Lee Seung-kyu, vice president of Entas, city duty-free shops, said. “About 200 to 300 Southeast Asian tourists are it. “Once Chinese relations are alleviated, I’ll be able to breathe easier.”

BY SHIN JIN-HO [hwang.hosub@joongang.co.kr]

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