SEOUL/BEIJING • China will allow travel agencies in Beijing and Shandong to partly resume sales of group tours to South Korea, in a sign of thawing relations between the nations that have been locked in a year-long diplomatic stand-off.
However, executives from tour agencies in the regions said they had been told not to include in their travel packages units of South Korean retail-to-chemicals giant Lotte Group - which provided land for the installation of a United States-backed anti-missile system that Beijing vehemently opposed.
China had banned all group tours to South Korea since March in the wake of Seoul's decision to install the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system. Beijing worries that the Thaad's radar can penetrate Chinese territory.
In South Korea, a halving of inbound Chinese tourists in the first nine months of the year cost the economy US$6.5 billion (S$8.7 billion) in lost revenue based on the average spending of Chinese visitors last year, according to official data. But a late October agreement between the countries to move past the dispute had boosted hopes that group tours may be allowed.
A Korea Tourism Organisation deputy director and Chinese travel agency executives yesterday said the China National Tourism Administration will allow the resumption of only over-the-counter sales of package tours from Beijing and Shandong to South Korea. But online sales of package tours and chartering flights or cruise trips are still banned.