Uncertainty in tourism: Airlines slash Korea-Okinawa flights as diplomatic rift deepens

August 21, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Yuki Nakamura

Top South Korean airline, Korean Air, announced major changes to its Japanese routes on August 20.

Beginning September 29, Incheon-Naha flights (currently offered daily) will be temporarily curtailed to four flights a week, departing Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Many Korean tourists have been cancelling travel plans to Japan amid rising tensions between the two countries, and six South Korean airlines have suspended or reduced flights to Okinawa as of August 20.

There are currently 71 flights connecting Okinawa to three Korean cities—Seoul, Busan and Daegu, per week; This number will drop to about 35 flights a week starting September, servicing only two Korean cities.

Okinawan travel agencies are voicing anxiety over an uncertain future.

There will be no flights between Daegu and Naha for some time; South Korean budget airline T’Way Airlines (currently offering five flights per week) announced on August 20 via its website that Daegu-Okinawa flights will be suspended August 27 through October 26.

For Busan flights, Asiana Airlines announced service suspension (three flights per week) starting on August 23.

Budget airline Jin Air will roll back its number of Busan-Naha flights (seven flights per week) to three per week, between August 21 and October 26.

As for the Incheon-Naha route, Budget airline Easter Jet announced it will suspend service (currently seven flights a week) from September 1 until November 30.

Air Seoul will also suspend service (seven flights per week) between September 1 and October 26.

Jin Air and T’Way Airlines will each cut back Incheon-Naha flights, down to three or four a week.

Korean Air, a full-service carrier, said the number of Korean passengers travelling to Japan started dwindling in mid-July, and the airline has since struggled to sell tickets.

Service suspension is expected to end on November 16, but the flight schedule thereafter will depend on future conditions.

A Korean Air spokesperson said, “[Korean Air] does not want to roll back on flights, but there are only half as many passengers as before, and the figures are brutally low. Resuming service is situation dependent.”

As Okinawa’s tourism is impacted by the escalating Japan-Korea dispute, Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau Chair Yoshiro Shimoji planned to visit Korea from the 25th to the 27th this month, to exchange ideas with airlines and relevant parties.

Shimoji said, “The service suspension is concerning, but our top priority is to ensure the tourists who are currently in Okinawa are happy and satisfied.

I want to find out what specific actions companies need from us in different scenarios.”

(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)
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