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S. Korea-Singapore travel bubble looks to bring back tourism Updated: 2021-12-06 09:05:27 KST

Volcanic mountains and a beautiful coastline with stretches of white sand attract visitors to South Korea's southern island of Jeju.
But this place known for its nature beauty has been almost off limits for foreign travelers in the COVID-19 era.

"For nearly a year and nine months… Jeju was closed to group tours from other countries due to the pandemic… but today the door has finally been reopened."

In 2019 South Korea had over 17 million foreign visitors, but after the pandemic hit, the figure dropped by nearly 86-percent.
For outbound travel more than 28 million people took a trip before the pandemic but that also fell significantly last year.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is a direct hit against airlines it caused the majority of routes to be closed so as a country that relies on international travel, this is a fatal situation."

Why has Jeju reopened its border this time?
It has created a Travel Bubble or Vaccinated Travel Lane which is an agreement between two or more countries to open up their borders for travel without mandatory quarantine.
The process of traveling under the agreement varies from country to country.
However, those who'd like to travel to South Korea need to go through three Covid tests.
They must take a PCR test within 72 hours of departure one upon arrival and the final test on the 6th or 7th day if they will stay for 8 days or more.
They also need a couple of documents such as a negative PCR test result an official COVID-19 vaccination certificate and a copy of their travel medical insurance.

Under the South Korea and Singapore travel bubble agreement that kicked off on November 15th 20 people from Singapore arrived on Jeju island.
Usually, group tours travel around the island by bus

"But to be extra careful amid the pandemic these electric vehicles are ready to transport members of the tour group on their adventures."

Onto the next stop these two members of the group tour said they are fans of Korean dramas.

"There were a lot of Korean dramas that keep us entertained during the pandemic. We were watching a lot of it on Netflix and different channels. () Obviously, Squid Game is all the rage, recently right? Oh my god we wanna come here for Gong yoo."

"What made you guys decide that 'hey I wanna go to Korea'?"

"When we look at the situation we thought Korea situation was pretty close to Singapore where we are still practicing safe distancing with a mask on. Everyone was just quite prudent, right? You know maybe Korea was a safer choice? We decided to give Korea, try."

"For me, I'm a little scared to travel internationally were you scared at all?

"We do feel a little bit nervous because it has been two years since we've ever been traveling. We are a little bit getting used to that."

Once they arrived at one of the tour spots the excitement began.
They took photos ate desserts drank coffee and most importantly enjoyed some good quality time together.
One traveler who brought his whole family on the trip said he felt very confident doing so.

"This is where we wanted to visit even before the pandemic so once it became availableit was a natural choice for us."

According to Seoul's culture ministry more than 1-thousand Singaporean visitors came to South Korea just within a week and this is 33 times that of the previous several months.
However the world is facing another Covid curveball.
The 'Omicron' variant is putting international travel ONCE AGAIN in jeopardy.
BUT that didn't stop some visitors due to the travel bubble agreement.

"I was in Singapore for a long time, but it has been almost two years since I last visited there. I booked my flights as soon as possible when online sales opened up."

"Were you worried about the spread of the Omicron variant?"

" I watched the news about it yesterday. Of course, I was worried but I still want to go while being careful."

So far, South Korea has already imposed travel restrictions on countries with a high risk of the Omicron variant.
Starting December 3rd for two weeks all overseas visitors MUST go through a 10-day quarantine, even if they are fully vaccinated.
For the worst case scenario this so-called 'circuit breaker' could put the travel bubble agreement in jeopardy AGAIN.
Some tourism businesses think the travel bubble should continue.

"If we close our borders, it will bring more negative impacts not only psychologically but also economically. I think we should feel more confident and open up international travel if countries under the travel bubble agreement follow prevention measures well. That's the fastest way to save the tourism industry.

"The global pandemic is far from over…but the travel bubble could be the turning point for international travel in the COVID-19 era, and maybe this could give people a little bit more breathing room to travel internationally… in less stressful conditions. Choi Won-jong, Arirang News. "
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