Chinese tourists shun ROK due to MERS fear

Source:Xinhua Published: 2015-6-10 15:21:16

Despite no official travel warning from the government, Chinese travelers are feeling jittery over visits to the Republic of Korea (ROK) after the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) claimed nine lives there.

Travel agencies are predicting a 70-percent drop or more in summer travel to the ROK as fearful tourists urgently book alternative destinations.

Shanghai Springtour Travel Agency said they received about 1,000 cancellation and delay requests, with trips to Seoul and Pusan - the most popular destinations - affected the most.

All cancellations were group tours planned for June and July, one of the busiest travel seasons due to the three-day Dragon Boat Festival and the beginning of summer vacation for students, Zou Qingling, deputy manager of the agency, said.

The ROK surpassed Thailand and Japan to become the most favored destination for Chinese outbound tourists, with 6.1 million visitors in 2014, according to Ctrip, a NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency.

Liao Wei, head of the Chongqing subsidiary of China Travel Agency, said it was the company's most popular destination up until last week. Cancellations began pouring in on Friday.

"The phones have been ringing continuously as tourists call to make cancellations," he said.

They were also forced to reduce their travel packages to the ROK after airlines cut flights, Liao said.

Xu Rui, a tourist who recently canceled his booking with the agency, said he was only refunded 80 percent of his fee. He had reserved a five-day trip to the ROK costing 5,000 yuan (806 US dollars) per person.

Travel agencies have taken additional safety measures for tourists still planning trips, handing out hand sanitizer and having groups wear masks throughout the visit.

They also advise new customers to avoid the ROK.

In Qingdao, a coastal city in east China's Shandong Province across the Yellow Sea from the ROK, a newly-launched international cruise route has been left abandoned following the MERS outbreak.

Cruise company Xinhua Yuntong International Travel Agency said much of its business was centered around routes to Japan and the ROK launched on May 29. Now, only cruises to Japan are in service.

The first confirmed MERS patient in China, a man from the ROK, tested positive in Guangdong on May 29. By Wednesday, he was in stable condition and slowly recovering, the health and family planning commission of Guangdong Province said.

Seventy-eight people with close access with the patient were placed under a quarantine in Guangdong that is expected to end this week. So far, none of them have shown symptoms.

The Shandong provincial tourism bureau has warned travel agencies to brief customers on the condition of MERS in the affected countries and regions.

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