Tour cancellations surge amid MERS scare


Vietnamese and South Koreans are too scared to travel given the continued spread of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) with an increasingly high number of tour cancellations reported.

MERS The central coast city of Danang normally attracts 11,000 South Korean visitors a month, but Korean arrivals are falling at a stronger pace than the 10-15% recorded early last week.

As of last Thursday, the numbers of tourists at some travel firms in Danang had dipped by half. Omega, Chang and Vitours had reported respective falls of 30-40%, 50% and 5-10%, according to the Danang Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Koreans are advised against travels to crowded places. Though local travel firms regularly provide updates on the disease, tourists have insisted on delaying their trips.

The number of Vietnamese who have canceled trips to Korea is also on the rise. Statistics of the Danang Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism show 95% of South Korea tour buyers have either canceled or changed their tour programs.

The massive tour cancellations have delivered a blow to airlines operating South Korea-Danang flights as seat occupancy is very low.

According to the department, the number of tourists flying with Vietnam Airlines from Korea to Danang has slightly slid but the number of fliers on the opposite direction has dropped almost 100%. Meanwhile, for Korean Air, three groups of Vietnamese bought tours to Korea, but only one of them still went ahead with their travel plan, one canceled and one delayed until August.

In HCMC, many travel firms said they would have no Korea tour program towards month-end and that they had received no bookings of tours that would depart in the coming months.

“From now until the end of this month, we will send no tourists to Korea. Some tourists have booked July, August and September tours but are still waiting for new developments,” said Doan Thi Thanh Tra, marketing and communications manager at Saigontourist Travel Service Company.

Tours to Korea are favored by domestic tourists. In peak travel seasons like summer, major travel firms like Saigontourist often arrange Korea tours for at least two groups of tourists a week. Last year more than 140,000 Vietnamese visited Korea.