CHEONGJU, Aug. 17 (Korea Bizwire) – Geopolitical tensions are having a real effect on the Korean economy as North Chungcheong Province announced on August 15 that the low-cost carrier Eastar Jet had abandoned its plans to resume flight operations from Chungcheong International Airport to five Chinese cities.
Since the cooling of relations between China and South Korea, Eastar Jet put an indefinite hold on all flights to Chinese destinations except for the city of Yanji, where a significant portion of the population is ethnically Korean.
Encouraged by the rumors of the Chinese ban on Korean goods and services being lifted, Eastar Jet deliberated the possibility of reopening flights this month. However, recent activity by North Korea and the South’s decision to expand the deployment of its THAAD missile systems has eliminated the possibility of the rumors coming true.
Eastar Jet is reportedly considering October 28, the culmination of its summer operations, as a potential target for resuming China-bound flights.
In July, the number of travelers flying to overseas destinations through Cheongju International Airport dropped by more than 80 percent, from 73,838 to 13,217 travelers, compared to the same month last year.
The numbers are supported by the facts that 90 percent of international travelers are Chinese, and that compared to the 492 flights in July last year, there were only 138 this year.
In January, 198 planes flew out of Cheongju International Airport to Chinese destinations. Currently, with the total number of flights hovering around 50, airlines are offering various patchwork flight options to destinations in Southeast Asia but have so far been unable to cover the loss of the lucrative Chinese market.
The airport’s struggles extend to its range of duty free shops. Run by operator City Plus Company and opened in 2014, the stores are reportedly bringing a mere 100 million won per month, one-sixtieth of their average revenue during the summer months last year.
The situation has become exceedingly grave as the retailers have been unable to make the monthly rental payments of 150 million won since March.
As a countermeasure, some employees have been given paid leave, while others have voluntarily left due to bonuses drying up.
Things are no better for travel agencies devoted to Chinese tourism. One agency based in Cheongju stated that it had closed three offices in the downtown area and had laid off more than 50 employees.
Lina Jang (firstname.lastname@example.org)