China allows online sales of group tours to South Korea

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South Korea Skyline
South Korea city skyline at twilight.

China has allowed its online travel agencies to resume selling group tours to South Korea after a prolonged diplomatic spat over the installation of a U.S.-backed, anti-missile system in South Korea, Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday.

China banned group tours to South Korea in March last year after Seoul agreed to install the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System (THAAD). The move badly hurt South Korea’s retail and service sectors.

Chinese tourists were told to avoid any store and hotel run by conglomerate Lotte Group, which provided land in South Korea for the THAAD missile system. Lotte stores in China were also shut down amid the political tensions.

As tensions thawed between the nations, China in November last year allowed over-the-counter sales of package tours from Beijing and Shandong to South Korea, but kept online curbs in place.

Yonhap said on Wednesday that Chinese online travel agency Ctrip was again offering group tours to South Korea.

“As China’s largest online travel agency Ctrip resumed the sale of group tours to South Korea, other online agencies will do the same,” said a tourism industry source quoted by Yonhap.

Ctrip was not immediately available for comment.

The president of Korean Air Lines said last month its China route traffic remained weak due to “political issues”.

South Korea and the United States say the THAAD system is designed to better respond to North Korea’s missile threat, but Beijing said the system’s radar can probe deep into its territory, undermining its security.

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