Tourism Industry Hit Hard by MERS

      June 03, 2015 10:11

      The tourism industry is taking a direct hit from the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Lots of packages tours from China and Taiwan are being canceled, and travel agencies there face a barrage of phone calls from travelers who booked flights to Korea wondering whether it is safe to make the trip.

      The Korea Tourism Organization on Tuesday said an estimated 2,500 tourists from China and Taiwan have canceled plans to visit Korea in July and August. Around 300 tourists from Beijing and Shanghai canceled reservations to visit Korea, according to the nation's largest travel operator Hana Tour.

      Staffers disinfect the passenger terminal at Incheon International Airport on Wednesday. /Newsis

      Chung Ki-yoon at Hana Tour said, "Rumors spread in China that the situation is far worse than the media are reporting, and this has prompted travel agencies there to cancel tour programs to Korea."

      Market insiders forecast a raft of cancellations in the latter half of this month. One staffer with a travel agency catering to Chinese visitors said, "The cancellation rate for trips starting from the beginning to the middle of this month stands at only 15 percent, since there is no refund, but we expect around half of reservations for trips starting in the end of this month to be canceled, since they can still be refunded."

      The staffer said the agency's office in China is experiencing a surge in phone calls from worried vacationers. Another travel agency said, "This is extremely bad news at a time when we need to focus on recruiting customers for the summer peak season."

      A camel is quarantined at a zoo in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome spreads. /Courtesy of Seoul Grand Park

      Department stores, duty-free shops and supermarkets are worried about losing customers. Lee Seon-dae at Lotte Department Store said, "We will take steps to sanitize our stores so that customers can get some peace of mind."

      Lee Seung-nam, who works at a cosmetics shop in Myeong-dong, said, "There has been a marked drop in the number of Chinese visitors over the past several days. I just hope this situation doesn't continue until July and August."

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