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'Travel bubble' expected to revive S. Korea's aviation, travel industries from third quarter of 2021
Updated: 2021-06-16 13:44:31 KST
Hopes are high for a return to overseas travel as the global vaccination campaign picks up speed and countries loosen their border restrictions.
Some countries have set up systems directly with each other, with systems in place for so-called "travel bubbles."
Last week, South Korea said it's looking at setting up travel bubbles of its own.
For more on this, we have our Min Suk-hyen joining us in the studio today. Welcome back.

Good to be here.

So, Suk-hyen, a lot of us are looking forward to traveling overseas again. The government's got our hopes up that that'll soon become easier. Tell us more about how a travel bubble works and what South Korea is planning.

Well, a travel bubble is an exclusive travel partnership that allows people to travel freely without undergoing quarantine.
The deal is usually between two or more countries that have achieved considerable success in containing and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korea is planning to create a travel bubble agreement with a few countries as early as next month.
Countries top on the list include Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and the U.S. territories of Guam and Saipan which are all considered to be relatively safe to visit.
For now, only group tours will be permitted for those fully vaccinated and travel will be restricted to direct flights.

"Travelers must stay in the 'travel bubble' country for 14 days prior to departure. They must take a direct flight to enter the country and upon arrival must present their vaccination certificate. Only those who test negative after a PCR test will then be exempt from quarantine."

Further details of the plan, such as specific dates, quarantine guidelines and proof of vaccination will be made in the coming weeks.

A big point you mentioned is that the travel bubble or bubbles mentioned by the government last week would be limited to group tours.
But what about people who've been vaccinated and want to travel on their own? Can they do that?

Technically, yes. There are in fact many places that allow fully vaccinated people to enter without a 14-day quarantine on arrival.
These include Guam and Saipan, two most popular tourist destinations for South Koreans.
Jeju Air has already resumed its flights to Saipan this month and Asiana Airlines plans to start its service for the resort island from July.
Korean Air also opened tickets for Guam set to leave this November while T' Way and Air Seoul plan to start flight services for the same route this summer.
Over in Europe, Switzerland, Spain, and France are also welcoming vaccinated travelers.
And those vaccinated in Korea won't need to quarantine when returning from their trip either.
But one thing to be careful, though, is that each country has slightly different COVID-19 protocols for incoming travelers…
Some countries only grant quarantine-free entry for certain types of COVID-19 vaccines.
For example, Guam only recognizes U.S. FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines, such as Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson.
However, AstraZeneca has not yet been FDA-approved so those who had the AstraZeneca shot will still have to quarantine.
So, you do have to look into the details before traveling.

So Korea's air carriers are gradually getting these international flights going again, and planning more. It's been a rough time for the airlines and their employees. Not to mention the many mom and pop travel agencies in Korea.
Are they getting back on their feet now?

Not just yet travel agencies and the airline industry are still crippled by the pandemic.
Many staff are still on unpaid leave as profits have yet to jump back to pre-pandemic levels.
At the moment, they're gearing up to get their businesses running again.
Have a listen.

"There are not many reservations for overseas travel yet, but they are more inquiries compared to the past. Right now, we're more focused on getting ready to offer safe travel packages for overseas tours."

Insiders agree that it will take a while for firms to fully recover.
But they say the announcement of a travel bubble last week brought great hope.

"With the latest travel bubble announcement, it feels like we can finally see the end of the tunnel.
The hardest part is going through a tunnel where you don't know when it's going to end. But now that we know where that is, we just need to bear it for a few more months."

Well said by the person you interviewed. "A few more months" is what we've all been hearing for a long time now. When do you see travel starting to resembly what we used to consider normal?

Perhaps the Korean Thanksgiving holiday 'Chuseok' will look more like pre-COVID times.
That's because the government aims to vaccinate about 70 percent of the country's total population by September.
This year's 'Chuseok' is set to run from September 20th to the 22nd… and including the weekends… it will be a five-day holiday for all.
So, this is when the airline and travel industries expect to see an actual uptick in booking rates.

"By the time we get to the Chuseok holiday, when most of the population has been fully vaccinated, we expect demand for overseas travel to be higher. It could be the start of a return to normal travel."

One thing that's happened as the vaccine campaign progresses and the government talks about travel bubbles is that airline and travel-related stocks are up. Tell us about that.

Absolutely. South Korea's airline stocks have been rising significantly in line with the country's rapid vaccine rollout and hopes for overseas travel.
On the day of the travel bubble announcement last week, shares of Korean Air closed 4 percent higher at over 30 U.S. dollars and its parent Hanjin KAL rose 4 percent at about 67 dollars.
Low-cost carriers saw their stocks jump on the same day with Jeju Air up almost 6 percent, Jin Air 5 percent and T'way Air 19 percent.
Local travel stocks were also up for the same reason.
Some analysts even expect the stocks to go higher in the second half of this year.

"The pent-up demand in travel means the recovery is expected to continue throughout 2023. The recovery cycle will be quite similar to that of the Lehman Brothers' financial crisis, that went from 2008 to 2010. The only difference is that the gains will be higher since economic fallout from the pandemic was worse."

Good to hear that travel may be returning to normal and industries are getting back on their feet.
Thank you for today's report.

Thank you.
Reporter : shmin@arirang.com