Hundreds of travellers cancel trips to South Korea

Travel agencies here said their customers are cancelling, postponing or diverting their trips to South Korea.
Travel agencies here said their customers are cancelling, postponing or diverting their trips to South Korea.PHOTO: REUTERS

HUNDREDS of travellers are cancelling their trips to South Korea, with growing concerns about the rise of an infectious disease that has spread to more than 160 people there.

Travel agencies said their customers are cancelling, postponing or diverting their trips to the East Asian country.

The outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome, which has infected 162 people and killed 20 in South Korea, has spooked travellers worldwide, although the South Korean government has said the disease is under control.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has not issued an advisory against travel to South Korea, but many are taking no chances.

SA Tours had bookings from 10 groups, with about 20 to 40 customers each, called off. Most customers had asked to change their destinations or postpone their trips, said marketing manager Eva Wu.

"As we require a minimum of 20 people for a tour group to go ahead, pretty much none of our groups is leaving for South Korea for the rest of this month."

At Dynasty Travel, a smaller group of 14 left for the capital city of Seoul last Saturday, after about half of those going cancelled or postponed their trips, or changed their destination.

Another four or five groups of between 25 and 30 people each, due to depart later this month, are adopting a wait-and-see approach, said its marketing communications director Alicia Seah.

Inquiries and bookings to South Korea have also slowed. This is bad news for the agencies as the second half of the year - autumn and winter - usually draws twice the number of travellers than the first, said Ms Seah.

Chan Brothers Travel, which has groups of 20 to 40 people departing for South Korea daily, provides masks and antiseptic wipes to its customers on tour. Those travelling on their own are given a 24-hour emergency hotline to call.

At least one agency, SingExpress Travel, is waiving administrative and cancellation fees for customers who cancel or postpone their trips to South Korea from now until the end of next month. "We felt we should be responsible for the safety of our customers," said its senior manager for marketing and business development Celina Yeo.

Some holidaymakers are hoping the situation will improve.

Housewife Clara Chan, 52, who intends to leave on June 29 for a 12-day holiday in Seoul and Busan, said: "I'm still monitoring the situation but if there is no negative travel advisory against travel there by MFA and the World Health Organisation, then I'll proceed with my plans."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2015, with the headline 'Hundreds cancel trips to South Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe