THAAD prompts cruise lines to cancel stops in ROK
Uncertainties brought by the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) have cast a shadow on Chinese people's increasing enthusiasm to tour and shop in South Korea.
By Friday, at least five major cruise companies operating in China have changed course and pulled South Korea out of their port destinations due to public pressure.
For instance, Costa Cruises said on Friday that it will "remove calls to South Korean ports from our recent cruises based out of China, replacing them with cruising at sea or calls to destinations in Japan".
The MSC Cruises made a similar announcement on its WeChat account on Friday that it will take South Korea out of its route from March 26 to May 15, considering "recent developments in South Korean affairs".
Ningbo airport canceled all flights to South Korea starting this month, involving at least four airlines that operate flights between the city and destinations in South Korea, Chinese media reported.
Major tour agencies have also taken South Korea out of their product line. A spokesperson for China Youth Travel Service confirmed that all of their South Korea tour packages were taken off the shelves last week. Before that, the company had received repeated calls from customers asking why they had not taken South Korea out of their service.
The Chinese government has not made any official announcement or comment on this matter.
"What indeed surprised us was that very few customers canceled their orders (after cruises companies canceled stops at ROK ports). They showed understanding, and even support in some cases, of our decision to cancel South Korean tours. We received hardly any complaints regarding our trip adjustment," tour agency LY.com was quoted by The Paper as saying.
SkySea Holding International, China's first local cruise company, also confirmed they received similar feedback from customers.
Feng Kui, director of the academic committee of the China Center for Urban Development, said: "It is THAAD that pushed China-ROK tourism relations to an all-time low."
Chinese and South Korean leaders decided to launch complementary tourism years during their summit in 2014 to build on their cultural ties, promote tourism and reinforce the foundation of goodwill between the two peoples.
The 2015 Chinese Tourism Year in South Korea began on Jan 23, 2015, followed in 2016 by the South Korean Tourism Year in China.
In 2016, some 17 million foreign tourists visited South Korea.
Half of them - more than 8 million - were from China. A little more than 4 million Chinese toured South Korea in 2013.
Su Zhou contributed to this story.
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