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North Korea attack hurting tourism

South Korea’s tourism industry appears to be hit hard by the North Korean artillery attack on its border island of Yeonpyeong that killed four people, including two civilians, and destroyed scores of houses.

The country has been enjoying increasing popularity as a tourist destination for Asian travelers, but with Tuesday’s attacks sending a chilling reminder that the two Koreas remain technically at war, travel agencies are now moaning over a growing number of cancelations.

``We have been fielding a lot of calls since Wednesday, mostly from Japanese tourists, as Japan has raised its caution level for its travelers going to South Korea. We just had a 20-person group of Japanese tourists cancel their travel package,’’ said an official from Hanjin Travel Service.

``Granted, November is a low-demand season being a nondescript month, but the effect of the North Korean attack is significant, as the number of cancellations has jumped despite the cancelation fees. Travelers are clearly worried about their safety, and we are worried about the amount of canceled trips growing for an extended period.’’

An employee from Mode Tour, another major travel agency, agreed that the sense of apprehension among travelers is becoming evident. There also have been a slew of cancelations from Taiwanese travelers, he said, although this probably has just as much to do with the anti-Korean sentiment sparked in the country following the controversial disqualification of a Taiwanese taekwondo competitor at the Asian Games in China as Pyongyang-induced fears.

``There are an increasing number of inquiries from Taiwan and many of the calls are related to cancelations,’’ said the Mode Tour employee.

The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) dismissed the possibility of the North Korean attacks having a lasting effect on the country’s tourist industry, but clearly appeared alarmed by the situation. The KTO summoned the heads of its international branches to an emergency video conference Thursday to discuss the impact of the attacks on the industry and how to reduce the strain.

``The Japanese travelers are clearly most sensitive to inter-Korean issues and tension in the Korean Peninsula, so we will be obviously watching the changes in the influx of Japanese tourists closely,’’ said a KTO official.

``We are approaching each major Japanese travel agency one-on-one to give them the exact facts of the situation and assure them that Japanese travelers will be safe in South Korea.’’

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