South Korea's government on Wednesday outlined measures to help local airlines better cope with the drop in traffic on their China routes amid a diplomatic row over the deployment of an advanced US anti-missile system here.
The number of travelers on domestic and international routes rose 8.9 percent to 8.51 million in March from a year earlier on a strong won and more services offered by low-cost carriers. The latest data, however, showed the number of people traveling to and from China plunging 23 percent to 1.13 million during the same period, the transport ministry said in a statement.
The decline was sparked by China's ban on tour group packages to South Korea from March 15 onward seemingly in retaliation for Seoul's push to station of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system on the Korean Peninsula.
Beijing has argued that the powerful X-band radar that is part of the THAAD battery could be used against it even though Seoul and Washington have made clear that the system is purely defensive in nature and aims to counter the growing threat from North Korean missiles.
Seoul officials will hold aviation talks with their counterparts in Asia, such as Thailand and Taiwan, to make it possible to increase flights to these countries, while reducing flights to China, the statement said.
"We need to reduce our heavy dependence on China and develop alternative routes to prosper over the long term," a ministry official said.
The government will also offer incentives to travel agencies that succeed in attracting travelers from Southeast Asia, Russia and Japan. Incheon International Airport plans to develop tourism products to woo individual Chinese travelers, the statement said. (Yonhap)