China spat puts chill on South Korea cruise sector

Cruise operators are rewriting their operations to South Korean ports as the diplomatic row between Beijing and Seoul increasingly spills over into the travel sector.

South Korea’s travel industry has quickly felt the pinch after Beijing instructed Chinese travel agencies to halt all sales to South Korean destinations. An estimated 53,000 Chinese cancelled their bookings on China-Incheon ferries in March, while Korean Air reservations on Chinese routes are down 10 per cent and Asiana Airlines is reporting a fall of nine per cent.

Jeju island

But the cruise sector, which has enjoyed impressive growth on China-South Korea routes in recent years, is among those hardest hit with operators reworking itineraries in response.

Beverly Yang, a spokeswoman for Costa Cruises Asia Pacific and China, told TTG Asia: “Costa Cruises will remove calls to South Korean ports from our recent cruises homeported out of China, replacing them with cruising at sea or calls to destinations in Japan.”

Norwegian Cruise Line, which is about to launch the new Norwegian Joy on its Chinese routes, also hinted that it is taking South Korean ports off its itinerary.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We will be adjusting our schedules, but the beauty of cruise ships is that we are able to alter itineraries and ports of call as needed.”

Earlier this month, 3,459 Chinese passengers aboard the 11,000-ton Costa Serena refused to disembark during a port visit to Jeju Island. According to local media reports, around 80 charter buses and tour guides waiting on the dockside went away empty-handed.

Beijing insists that its order is not a retaliation for the South Korean government’s decision to deploy the US Army’s THAAD anti-missile system in the country.

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