This image shows a duty-free mall at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Fears over the omicron coronavirus variant are dashing hopes for the resumption of overseas travel, forcing many to cancel or postpone travel plans, including honeymoons, only a month after the country's "living with COVID-19" policy revived expectations for a return to normal.
South Korea confirmed five omicron infections a day earlier, the first local cases of the fast-spreading COVID-19 variant, forcing authorities to tighten passenger screening and other antivirus quarantine measures at airports.
The new threat came as the "living with COVID-19" scheme, aimed at phasing out strict social distancing curbs, had revived hopes for long-haul getaways abroad after nearly two years of tight border controls due to pandemic concerns.
A 26-year-old office worker, surnamed Lee, had to cancel a lodging reservation made near a hot spring in Japan's Hokkaido for a Christmas season trip, after the country banned the entry of foreigners over concerns about the omicron variant.
"I thought the entry ban may remain unchanged in late December. It was a rare travel opportunity that I barely won, but I don't even know who I can blame now," Lee said, giving a sigh.
A 29-year-old office worker, surnamed Kim, has also postponed a plan to go on a honeymoon to Hawaii in May amid growing uncertainties of the pandemic situation.
"My fiance and I were going to purchase a honeymoon travel package with a travel agency this weekend but delayed the plan because it seemed necessary to wait and see until the situation stabilizes," Kim said.
"I strongly wish that I can go abroad for my honeymoon after spending three years without a trip abroad, but I am worried about the possibility of the reversal of the current self-quarantine exemptions given to travelers in Hawaii," Lee added.
On social network services, a wave of people voiced exasperations and disappointment over canceled and delayed plans for travel overseas. Twitter user @christ*** said, "After my winter trip plan to the US was canceled due to omicron, I have little to look forward to."
Industry officials said travel agencies are getting a growing flow of calls from customers wishing to cancel or delay their travel plans.
"Since the spread of the omicron variant was first reported late last month, some customers called to cancel their travel plans, and as of now, some 15 percent of the trips reserved for this month have been canceled so far," a travel industry official noted. (Yonhap)