COVID-19: S Koreans flock to travel agencies

After spending two years being socially distanced in his home country of South Korea, Kim Hoe-jun booked a last-minute flight to Hawaii, where he had enjoyed his honeymoon six years ago, giving in to his craving for overseas travel.

“I bought the ticket just a week ago, but it was rather a no-brainer. It felt like I was making up for those two years not being able to go abroad often as I used to before the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said before his departure from Incheon International Airport.

Kim and his wife are among South Koreans joining in a rush for “revenge travel” — a term that has been trending on social media as people scramble to book overseas trips that were delayed by pandemic restrictions.

Photo: Reuters

The boom started after Monday last week, when South Korea lifted a seven-day mandatory quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers arriving from most countries. The restriction had been eased last year, but was reimposed in December last year as the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 spread.

The country has largely scrapped its once-aggressive tracing and containment efforts despite a record COVID-19 wave, joining a growing list of countries that have eased quarantine rules, including Australia, Japan, Singapore and New Zealand.

South Koreans now appear more ready to travel.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Polls showed that people are less worried about the implications of catching the virus and increasingly see its prevention as out of their hands.

Sales of overseas flight tickets on 11st, an e-commerce unit of SK Telecom Co, South Korea’s top mobile carrier, rose more than eight-fold compared with a year earlier between Monday last week, when the lifting of quarantine was announced, and Sunday, 11st said.

Kim Na-yeon, 27, was excited to return to Hawaii where she used to live.

“I couldn’t dare to travel even in [South] Korea because of COVID, but now I feel a bit freer with the exemption, so I’ve decided to go meet old friends and do some sightseeing,” she said.

Airlines and travel agencies have reported exploding demand for routes to Hawaii, the Northern Mariana Islands’ Saipan and Guam, as well as destinations in Europe and Southeast Asia where travelers who submit a vaccination certificate or negative COVID-19 test result are exempted from quarantine.

Saipan and Guam, which have “travel bubble” pacts with South Korea, also offer free COVID-19 testing and pay for quarantine expenses if a traveller tests positive.

Each South Korean national visiting Saipan even receives US$100 in “travel bucks” incentives to spend at businesses there.

Lee Tae-woo, a 36-year-old frequent traveler to Japan, said he has changed some money into yen, taking advantage of the currency’s sharp decline and hoping to jump on the revenge travel bandwagon soon.

“It’s been a long wait, and I’m ready to go back as soon as they finally open up again, and visit my favourite coffee roastery and enjoy the night view from Shibuya Station,” Lee said, referring to Tokyo’s bustling central district.

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