SEOUL, Jul. 31 (Korea Bizwire) — South Koreans’ Japan-bound travel looks set to slip further as there are no signs of the trade tensions between the two neighbors abating.
On July 4, Japan tightened controls on exports of three high-tech materials to South Korea, in apparent retaliation against a series of court rulings here that order Japanese firms to compensate forced labor victims during World War II.
But things seem to be taking a turn for the worse. Japan is widely expected to pass a bill on Friday to remove South Korea from its “whitelist” of trusted trade partners, which will have a far-reaching impact on the Korean economy.
Already, travel demand for Japan has been sagging following Japan’s export curbs early this month.
Government data shows an increasing number of South Koreans participating in the “Boycott Japan” campaign against travel to the neighboring country and consumption of its products.
The number of Koreans who traveled to Japan during the July 16-30 period fell 13 percent to 467,249 from 539,660 during the June 16-30 period, according to the data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
The low travel demand has led Korean airlines to adjust their flight services on routes to Japan as well.
Full-service carriers, such as Korean Air Lines Co. and Asiana Airlines Inc., and low-cost carriers, have announced plans to readjust flight schedules to Japan.
National flag carrier Korean Air said it will suspend its Busan-Sapporo route from Sept. 3 due to a recent sharp decline in demand on the route.
“Booking rates on routes to Japanese cities, like Sapporo and Okinawa, began to fall sharply in the third week of July. Overall reservations on the Japanese routes are on the decline as people are opting for other destinations for holidays and vacations,” a Korean Air official said.
Asiana said it will reduce the number of flights on the routes to Japanese destinations, such as Fukuoka, Osaka and Okinawa, starting mid-September.
Budget carriers, such as Jeju Air Co., Air Busan Co., Eastar Jet and T’way Air, have already reduced flights or plan to streamline their Japanese routes from South Korea’s regional cities to less popular Japanese cities.
Analysts expect airlines may report an operating loss for the year if Japan’s extended export restrictions further fuel anti-Japan sentiment among Koreans.
In particular, declining cargo volumes and tougher competition with budget carriers on short-haul routes will deal a blow to the bottom lines of full-service carriers this year, Kim Pyong-mo, an analyst at DB Financial Investment Co., said.