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Overseas travel likely to be revitalized from summer season

An office of a travel agency in Seoul is almost empty, Wednesday, amid the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. Aviation and tourism industries that have been hit hard by the pandemic are raising hope for increasing demand for overseas travel following the government's announcement of a plan to allow overseas group tours of fully vaccinated people in July at the earliest. Yonhap
An office of a travel agency in Seoul is almost empty, Wednesday, amid the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. Aviation and tourism industries that have been hit hard by the pandemic are raising hope for increasing demand for overseas travel following the government's announcement of a plan to allow overseas group tours of fully vaccinated people in July at the earliest. Yonhap

Korea seeking to sign 'travel bubble' accords with several countries

By Jun Ji-hye

Demand for overseas travel is expected to return this summer as the government is planning to allow overseas group tours for fully vaccinated people to countries that have managed to curtail COVID-19 infections, starting as early as next month.

Toward that end, the government has been in talks with several countries, including Singapore, to establish "travel bubbles" that refer to a partnership between two or more cities or countries with similar rates of COVID-19 infections, to allow quarantine-free air travel in both directions.

The plan comes as the nation's vaccination rate has been picking up speed, with more than 10 million people, or about 20 percent of the entire population, expected to have had at least their first shot by the end of this week, according to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, Wednesday.

The plan is also aimed at supporting the ailing aviation and tourism industries that have been hit hard by the prolonged pandemic.

In line with the government's plan, air carriers and travel agencies are showing signs of revival, moving quickly to prepare flights and travel packages.

Jeju Air resumed flights to Saipan, Tuesday, in preparation for the expected increased travel demand, while Asiana Airlines is planning to resume flights there next month.

E-commerce platform WeMakePrice said bookings for international flights jumped 442 percent for a week from May 27 when the government began a system that enables people to reserve and receive leftover vaccine, compared to a week earlier.

For its part, Incheon International Airport reopened arrival duty-free shops at Terminal 1, June 4, after they were closed for seven months due to the pandemic.

"The pandemic-induced travel restrictions have dealt a severe blow to the aviation and tourism industries," Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said during a government meeting on COVID-19 responses. "The resumption of overseas travel will signal a return to a pre-COVID-19 normal that many people are longing for."

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum speaks during a government meeting on COVID-19 responses at the Government Complex in Sejong, Wednesday. Yonhap
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum speaks during a government meeting on COVID-19 responses at the Government Complex in Sejong, Wednesday. Yonhap

Government officials said the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport have sounded out the intentions of several countries and territories, including Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Guam and Saipan, to establish travel bubble agreements with Korea.

The administration is currently holding working-level consultations with Singapore, and is planning to begin discussions with another country.

"Singapore has made notable achievements in its antivirus measures, with its vaccination rate having reached about 40 percent," said Yoon Tae-ho, a senior official from the Ministry of Health and Welfare. "Signing a travel bubble agreement based on mutual trust will also be an opportunity for Korea to promote its achievement in coping with the public health crisis."

Officials said those who want to join overseas group tours to travel to "bubble countries" are required to submit certificates proving they have been fully vaccinated, in addition to negative COVID-19 test results three days before departure.

After arrival, they will need to go through virus testing in that country, and if negative results are confirmed, they are exempted from mandatory quarantine and allowed to begin their tour.

Tourists can only use direct flights operated by the national airlines of each country. The number of flights and tourists will be decided on through consultation.

Officials noted that only group tours will be allowed at the moment as individual tourists would be difficult for authorities to control.

Regarding concerns over a possible inflow of coronavirus mutants after the implementation of travel bubbles, Yoon said, "If international tourism resumes, the possibility for the inflow of mutant strains will exist. We will continue to monitor the virus situations in other countries. Travel bubbles will be implemented to a limited extent with countries with stable virus response measures."


Jun Ji-hye jjh@koreatimes.co.kr


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