China partly lifts ban on group tours to South Korea, online curbs stay

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SEOUL/BEIJING – China will allow travel agencies in Shandong and Beijing to resume sales of group tours to South Korea, in a sign of thawing relations between the nations that were locked in a diplomatic standoff.
However, executives from tour agencies in the regions said they had been told to not include in their travel packages units of South Korean retail-to-chemicals giant Lotte Group – which provided land for the installation of a U.S.-backed anti-missile system that Beijing vehemently opposed.
China had banned all group tours to the neighboring state since March in the wake of South Korea’s decision to set up the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. Beijing worries the THAAD’s radar can penetrate Chinese land.
In South Korea, a halving of inbound Chinese tourists in the first nine months of the year cost the economy $6.5 billion in lost revenue based on the average spending of Chinese people in 2016, official data shows.
But a late October arrangement between the nations to proceed hopes group tours may be allowed in the future. [L3N1NE1MN]
China National Tourism Administration will allow resumption of only over-the-counter sales of package tours from Beijing and Shandong to South Korea, Park Yong-hwan manager at Korea Tourism Organization, and executives at travel agencies said on Tuesday.
Chartering flights or cruise trips continue to be prohibited, and sales of package tours, Park said.
According to the executives in travel agencies, on such as Lotte Group units, such as Lotte Duty Free restrictions stay. The executives declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the problem.
Lotte, South Korea’s No.5 conglomerate, has faced a major setback in the wake of deteriorating bilateral relations, with most of its hypermarkets in China being shut down after fire inspections.
The Korean travel ban is expected to be be in place for other Chinese regions for the time being and be lifted going forward, Park said.
Shares in South Korean tourism and firms rallied after the information of the partial lifting of the ban reported by Yonhap.
Asiana Airlines gained 3.1 percent and duty free shop operator Hotel Shilla climbed 2.8 percent. Casino operator Paradise climbed 2.2 percent, while cosmetics manufacturer LG Household & Health Care added 3.7 percent.
Reporting by Haejin Choi in SEOUL and Pei Li in BEIJING reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Himani Sarkar