BEIJING, March 9 China's Xiamen Airlines said it
has seen passenger numbers fall by up to a fifth on flights to
South Korea since a recent flare up in diplomatic tensions
between the two countries.
The tensions are over the deployment of a U.S. missile
system outside Seoul, which China has urged South Korea to halt.
Xiamen Airlines' Chairman Che Shanglun said on Thursday that
the carrier was seeing Chinese travellers cancel or postpone
trips to South Korea.
The airline, majority owned by China's largest carrier by
passenger numbers China Southern Airlines,
flies daily to Seoul and Jeju Island in South Korea.
"We haven't reduced flights, but passenger numbers have
fallen ... by about 10-20 percent daily," Che told reporters on
the sidelines of China's annual meeting of parliament.
"Some people are automatically thinking, the current
situation is not good, there is discrimination there against us,
so we shouldn't go ... The recent actions of (the South Korean
government) have hurt many Chinese citizens."
The Chinese are by far the biggest spenders in South Korea's
tourism industry, propping up the world's biggest duty free
market which generates about $8 billion in annual sales.
But tourism has been hit as relations between the two
countries have deteriorated over the U.S. military's deployment
of its advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)
anti-missile system to South Korea.
The diplomatic stand-off deepened last week when South
Korea's Lotte Group approved a land swap with the government
that will enable South Korean authorities to deploy the
controversial U.S. missile defence system.
Che did not specify when passenger volumes had begun to
tumble, saying only that it was "recently" as the debate over
the use of land owned by Lotte Group grew.
Since the deployment was announced, South Korean companies
in China have reported cyber attacks, store closures and fines.
State-controlled media in China has called for a boycott of
South Korean goods and services.
Several of South Korea's biggest news outlets also cited
unidentified sources as saying Chinese government officials were
telling tour operators to stop selling trips to the country.
Che, however, said that the political tensions were not
affecting its relationships with South Korean airlines. Xiamen
Airlines is part of global airline alliance SkyTeam which also
includes Korean Air.
Xiamen Airlines and its subsidiaries carried 12.7 million
passengers in the first half of 2016, according to latest data,
or 23 percent of China Southern's total passengers.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Susan Fenton)