Tours from Singapore to S. Korea cheaper after Mers outbreak

Tours from Singapore to S. Korea cheaper after Mers outbreak

Travel agencies are slashing the prices of tour packages to South Korea by as much as $500 to attract Singaporeans back to the East Asian country recovering from an infectious disease outbreak.

An eight-day tour now costs $1,258 at Dynasty Travel, down from $1,658 before the outbreak, while S Travel sold an eight-day tour, which departed yesterday, at $988, instead of $1,488.

Chan Brothers Travel is offering discounts of up to 30 per cent for travels by October.

The Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) is also enticing visitors with airfare promotions with Asiana Airlines and Singapore Airlines, which include free tickets to K-pop events. Hundreds in Singapore cancelled trips to South Korea in the previous two months, after cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) began to rise.

According to KTO, Singapore visitors fell by more than half in the two months, compared with the same period last year.

The virus has infected 186 people and killed 36 in South Korea since May. No new cases have been reported there in the past 1 1/2 months. Out of the earlier cases, one patient who had tested positive for the virus has yet to recover.

On July 28, South Korea declared a de facto end to the outbreak.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) will declare an official end to the outbreak only 28 days after the last case tests negative.

South Korean ambassador Suh Chung Ha told The Straits Times the infected patient is undergoing treatment in strict isolation, and the country is safe to visit.

Earlier this month, Singapore's Ministry of Health stopped temperature screening for travellers arriving from South Korea.

Bookings to South Korea for the year end - which fall in the autumn and winter seasons - have been lukewarm, travel agencies say.

"The pace of recovery is slower than expected," said Mr Nam Sang Ryong, chief executive of S Travel, which specialises in South Korea tours. Bookings for tours between next month and December are about 60 to 70 per cent of last year's bookings, he added.

At SA Tours, 81 people have booked trips to South Korea from next month to December, a far cry from 1,600 over the same period last year. Its marketing and communications manager Eva Wu said the agency is "not too worried" as travellers tend to book their trips late.

The peak period for travel is in November and December.

"We do foresee bookings going back up soon, especially if and when the WHO makes a statement," she said.

ASA Holidays still gets at least one customer a week asking about South Korea's Mers situation.

Mr Steven Ler, chairman of outbound travel at the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore, said the outlook is positive as South Korea has been one of the top destinations for Singaporeans.

He noted tour bookings have steadily picked up since the de facto declaration.

Retired nurse Jillin Foo, 62, will head to Seoul and Jeju Island for her annual anniversary trip with her husband next month.

"We were worried about Mers the past few months, but it seems like the situation has cleared up, so we're looking forward to our holiday," she said.

This article was first published on August 24, 2015.
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