Vacationers forgo traveling abroad due to soaring airfares

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Vacationers forgo traveling abroad due to soaring airfares

An empty departure lounge at Incheon International Airport Terminal 1, Monday.  Newsis
An empty departure lounge at Incheon International Airport Terminal 1, Monday. Newsis


By Lee Hae-rin

Chung Chae-young, a 29-year-old office worker in Gyeonggi Province, was looking forward to traveling to Southeast Asia right after the end of the pandemic-imposed travel restrictions.

Even now that the restrictive measures are lifted, she has decided instead to take a short summer vacation in the southern city of Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, due to sharply increasing travel costs.

“Airfares went up immediately after the travel restrictions were lifted,” Chung said, explaining that the increase in travel costs, along with the resurgence of COVID-19 infections, were the major reasons why she put her overseas vacation plans aside and chose to travel domestically.

Cho Jae-gyoung, 29, another office worker who had planned to visit a foreign country this summer, also opted for a trip to Ulleung Island in the East Sea. Cho and her friend said they were shocked to find that a round trip to Vancouver for two adults and a toddler costs around 10 million won ($ 7,637), which they believed was “ridiculous.”

Chung and Cho are two of many Korean “vacation-forgoers,” who put a hold on overseas vacation plans due to soaring airfares and high exchange rates. The buzz word “vacaflation,” a combination of vacation and inflation, has been coined to describe the soaring travel expenses currently being experienced by people wishing to travel.

This is the first summer holiday season since the travel restrictions and social distancing measures have been relaxed, with many vacationers hoping to quench their thirst for overseas travel and leisure activities.

The won-dollar exchange rate reached 1,320 won per dollar, the highest level in more than 13 years, on July 15. The exchange rate, which was at the 1,100 won level before the pandemic, has remained above 1,300 won.

According to Statistics Korea, the consumer price trend in June for airfares went up by 21.4 percent compared to the same period last year, while the cost of group tours increased by 31.4 percent. The figure is significantly higher than the general consumer price index, which rose by 6 percent nationwide.

An airline official said on condition of anonymity that the increase in airfares is due to the rise in international oil prices, amid the slow normalization of air travel services. The soaring fuel surcharges and airfares should return to normal after the summer peak season, he said.

As of Tuesday, the airfare for a round trip from Incheon to Paris and London starts at 3 million won ($ 2,290), which is close to double the pre-COVID-19 price.

However, the demand for international travel is still on the rise, especially for those who expect that the spread of coronavirus variants will slow down after the summer peak season.

The data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport shows a consistent increase in international travel. The number of international passengers increased from 941,540 in May to 1.27 million in June.

It is the first time for the number of monthly international travelers to surpass 1 million since before the pandemic began. Incheon International Airport expects the daily numbers of international travelers to surpass 85,000, yielding over 2.5 million per month in the summer peak season during July and August.

An official from the country’s largest travel agency Modu Tour also said that the reservation rate for overseas travel packages has been increasing consistently, especially in September and October.

“I remember the entry barriers for overseas travel before the pandemic,” Chung said. “But due to the soaring airfares and travel costs, it no longer seems like an option for everyone.”


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