The Chinese government has reportedly changed its mind about loosening restrictions on package tours to South Korea.
Korea JoongAng Daily reported that China’s tourism authority has rejected recent applications for group tour visas following the recent state visit of South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Beijing.
Citing tourism industry sources, the Korean news outlet reported that tour operators in Beijing and Shandong Province were told by the Chinese government that group tourist visas to Korea will be blocked again, effective December 20.
The Chinese authorities did not provide any explanation for the resumption of blocking package tours. The rejections came as a surprise to tour operators since this was the same Chinese government agency that lifted the ban in November.
South Korea, particularly Jeju Island, relies on mainland China for their inbound tourists. Data from Jeju Tourism Organization (JTO) showed that China accounted for 84 percent of the island’s international tourists in 2016.
But things changed after South Korea’s former administration allowed the deployment of additional U.S. anti-missile missile systems. Beijing retaliated by imposing a blanket ban on group tours to the country.
Jeju’s Chinese tourist numbers fell by 56.2% in March, rising to 89% by the end of June, according to JTO data.
Travel agencies had hoped that the icy relationship between Beijing and Seoul would thaw following the election of Moon and the scrapping of further missile deployment plans in the country.
Kim Jong-taek, secretary general of the Asia Inbound Tourism Association, was in disbelief upon hearing the news that Beijing re-imposed its ban, especially since he was expecting that the tour ban will be completely lifted in February.
However, he pointed out that “the Chinese government has never made any official statement on the matter.”
“I still don’t know why it’s turning down the visa applications, but I hope it has to do with some sort of an administrative lapse,” Kim told the news outlet.