Not even one month after Jing Travel first reported that it looks like the recently-troubled relationship between China and South Korea was thawing, 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 week 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.
The gradual restoration of tourism ties has been reversed
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 travelers 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 on Friday, 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 in February next year. 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 travelers visiting the country for the Olympics could turn out even more limited than previously anticipated.
The decision may have significant implications for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea
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. However, Korean companies that rely on Chinese tourists for a significant part of their revenue have taken a beating in the markets since the news came to light, indicating that investors find the reports credible.
It is also entirely unclear what prompted Chinese authorities to reinstate the ban on group travel to South Korea rather than continuing the gradual resumption of normal tourism relations between the two countries. Statements made regarding the South Korean president’s visit to China last week were relatively hopeful in their tone, with President Moon calling for a “new era” of relations between the two countries. If things were less cordial behind the scenes is anyone’s guess, but China’s reinstated travel ban does indicate that China still remains unhappy with South Korea—despite major diplomatic concessions made by the South Korean leadership.