The Korea-China sea travel routes are likely to resume operation next month as the international car ferry services at Incheon ferry terminal plan to end the three-year hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Several firms have announced the resumption of passenger transport services between Incheon and various cities in China and started selling travel packages.
The exact date of the resumption is yet unannounced, but the industry’s reopening plan comes in the wake of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters’ announcement earlier this month to lift all travel regulations including mandatory PCR tests on travellers from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.
The health authorities decided to end travel restrictions against China and neighbouring countries because China has seen a stable trend in new cases of Covid-19 for over a month after the Spring Festival holidays in January, and because there have been no signs of the coronavirus variant in and outside the country.
The pandemic-induced three-year break has devastated the Incheon Ferry Terminal’s ferry businesses. Before the pandemic, over 1 million passengers travelled via car ferries to Korea from 10 Chinese cities, including Qingdao, Dalian and Tianjin in 2019.
Since the terminal had all passenger transport halted in February 2020, terminal and shipping companies have only been transporting cargo.
The Incheon Port Authority (IPA), which manages the port city’s international ferry terminal, is in preparations to fully operate its customs, immigration and quarantine, as well as facilities like duty-free, restaurants and currency exchange offices.
Meanwhile, Korea and China will also see increased flight availability, as the authorities of the two countries agreed to increase the number of major destinations.The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport announced in early March that by the end of the month, around 200 weekly flights will operate between Korea and China, with flight operations at pre-pandemic levels by October. Less than eight flights between Incheon and only Beijing and Shanghai are available now.
In turn, Korean Air announced on Friday that the airline plans to increase the number of flights to China from the current level of 13 flights per week to 84 by the end of this month. Also, in two months, the airline plans to operate 99 flights between Korea and China, which account for 43 per cent of the pre-pandemic level.
Asiana, Korea’s other major carrier, has also announced it will increase its number of flights to China from 10 to 89 flights per week before April. The airline will also resume routes suspended due to Covid-19 to Chinese cities including Guangzhou, Qingdao, Xian and Tianjin.
However, the tourism reboot of the two countries will only gain momentum if the Chinese authorities decide to allow group tours to Korea and begin issuing tourist visas for those wishing to visit.
The Chinese government has been excluding Korea from its list of countries to which the Chinese people are allowed to travel to. Followed by its first announcement of 20 countries in February, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism revealed its second list of additional 40 countries from Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South and Central America last Friday.
However, Korea, along with Japan and the United States, has never been included in the list.