|Calls are growing for Koreans to Boycott travel to Japan. / Korea Times file|
By Kang Seung-woo
A mother of two children, surnamed Kang, had planned for some time to take her family to Sapporo, Japan.
But the famous Odori Park and Sapporo Clock Tower are no longer on her itinerary ― the family will now go to the Vietnamese resort city of Da Nang amid an intensifying campaign for Koreans to boycott travel to Japan; a campaign sparked by Tokyo's trade restrictions on three key materials that Korean companies need to make semiconductors and flat-panel displays.
"In the wake of the Boycott Japan campaign, I was unsure about whether to cancel the trip," Kang said. "But my oldest son advised me not to go, so we changed the destination, although we had to pay a cancellation fee."
Kang is not alone in boycotting travel to Japan, with more Koreans avoiding visiting the neighboring country, according to a recent data. In 2018, 7.5 million Koreans visited Japan, compared with 3 million Japanese traveling to Korea.
The average cancelation rate for Japanese travel programs from July 1 to 9 at the nation's six major travel agencies was 63 percent, with the highest reaching 80 percent.
At one agency, 5,706 out of 7,537 people canceled their bookings, while 3,965 out of 5,755 withdrew their booking at another company.
"Japan has been an all-year-round destination, but the current situation is more serious than when natural disasters discouraged Koreans from going there," a tourism industry official said.
Declining demand for package tours is also making travel agencies more nervous. At Hana Tour, the nation's largest travel agency, the number of package tourists fell by a daily average of 400 from July 8 to 10, compared with the previous week.
"Right after the Japanese government's announcement of the export restrictions on July 1, tourists canceled their travel to Japan and now there are also fewer new customers," another industry official said.
According to Japanese media outlets, including the Mainichi Shimbun, Korea Express Air will cancel six round-trip flights from Gimpo to Izumo in Shimane Prefecture from Saturday to July 25 due to "tour cancellations and difficulties in attracting customers in the wake of worsening Japan-Korea relations."
Also, local home shopping companies are ditching their Japanese travel programs or replacing them with alternatives.
Industry experts say the travel boycott could deliver a brutal blow to Japan, given that Koreans are big-spending tourists. According to government data, Korean travelers spent 6.4 trillion won ($5.44 billion) in Japan last year, compared with 2.6 trillion won by Japanese in Korea.
"Many Koreans travel to small towns in rural areas, usually accounting for some 30 percent of the total foreign tourists," Kim Bang-hee, an economy columnist, said in a radio interview on Friday. "If Koreans stop going, there will be growing complaints against the government from towns in regions around Osaka, Fukuoka and Kitakyushu."