November 09, 2019 08:19
A boycott of Japan here led to an 82.3-percent decline in travel bookings to the island country at Hana Tour last month compared to the same period of 2018. It fell 76.9 percent on-year in August and 75.4 percent in September, and at rival Mode Tour it plummeted 91.9 percent in October.
Travel agencies are suffering because customers are not traveling to alternative destinations either. Hana Tour and Mode Tour both suffered operating losses in October.
At Hana Tour overall overseas bookings dropped 33.2 percent last month because of the decline in bookings to Japan. And at Mode Tour package tours to Japan, which used to account for 30 percent of total sales, dwindled to just 3.4 percent last month.
But the number of Koreans visiting China including Hong Kong also declined 30.6 percent in October, while trips to North America fell 2.7 percent, to Europe 10.9 percent and to the South Pacific 15.9 percent because of the weak won and strained economy. Southeast Asia was the only destination to fare well by edging up 1.2 percent.
"This proves the common belief in the industry that there is no replacement for travel to Japan," one industry insider said. "Japan remains the preferred destination for many Koreans because of short travel distance, familiar food and comfortable environment, making it difficult for them to choose alternative destinations."
Another industry insider said, "As the economy slows down, a sense of crisis is growing in the travel industry here and the boycott of Japan has made the situation even worse."
Travel agencies are taking emergency measures. Last month, Hana Tour started giving staff sabbatical of up to one year, and Mode Tour started encouraging staff over 40 to take voluntary retirement. But their situation is still better than their smaller rivals', according to an insider. Small travel agencies are laying off staff and some are already closing down.
Conditions are unlikely to improve until the end of this year. According to Hana Tour, demand for overseas travel fell 27.6 percent this month and is expected to drop 14.2 percent in December.
"Either Korea-Japan relations have to recover quickly or airfares to other destinations must drop significantly to boost demand," a travel agent said, but both seem unlikely.
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com