Beijing has ordered major travel agencies to cease selling tours to South Korea in an act of retaliation for Seoul’s new Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system.
On Thursday, the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) has instructed travel agencies in Beijing to “suspend sales of all travel packages, both online and offline, to South Korea.”
Wang Ki-young, a director at South Korea’s culture ministry, told the Financial Times on Friday that the ban on tourist sales is expected to be expanded to other provinces in China.
According to the order, all group tours, organized by Beijing agencies, departing China for South Korea after March 15 must be canceled.
The CNTA has warned Chinese tourists on its official website to take caution when traveling to South Korean destinations during the month of March as the country’s tourism industry prepares for the worst, according to Shanghaiist.
More than 8 million Chinese tourists traveled to South Korea by the end of 2016, with the average person spending $2,391.
About 60% of Chinese tourists visit South Korea by themselves, while about half reportedly used domestic travel agencies to purchase tickets.
The ban could impact the country’s tourism revenue with an estimated loss of $9.63 billion.
Duty-free shops, which rely on Chinese tourists with deep pockets for 70% of their business, would be affected by the freeze on tourism to South Korea.
Photos showing a large amount of packaging from Chinese travelers’ duty-free purchases scattered all over the Jeju International Airport’s departure hall went viral in February.
Seoul sees the THAAD missile defense system as a security measure and way to survive, while Beijing considers it a threat to its own national security and will take appropriate “countermeasures.”
Hackers have recently targeted the South Korean retail giant Lotte Group’s websites in China and South Korea after it agreed to hand over a plot of land that would be used as a THAAD site, according to UPI.
Beijing has been widely blamed for allegedly directing the online attacks.