Korea group tour for masks, anyone?

February 14, 2020 12:09
Pedestrians wearing protective masks walk through a shopping district in Seoul at night on Feb. 3. Package tours to South Korea have become cheaper amid the China coronavirus crisis, with some added benefits thrown in. Photo: Bloomberg

The travel industry might be down in the dumps due to the coronavirus epidemic, but that doesn't mean the sector has given up looking for new customers. The crisis, in fact, appears to be paving way for a new tourism theme in the making.

Take a look at the latest offering from EGL Holdings. The package tour operator has launched a five-day tour to Seoul that would cost as little as HK$888, the price you would normally pay for a high-speed rail group tour to mainland cities such as Guilin or Wuhan.

But even the rock-bottom price might not be enticing enough for people to travel at this point in time, so the listed travel group put a healthy spin on the benefits to be reaped from the trip.

Apparently, the itinerary includes a one-day visit to outlet stores where tourists can snap up items such as sanitary products and facial masks.

That certainly seems a smart marketing strategy, given the shortage of such items here in Hong Kong amid the virus crisis.

Also, when stocks are available, one is forced to pay crazy amounts as importers and merchants are engaging in profiteering activities.

Some pharmacy stores in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, for instance, are selling a 50-piece mask box at HK$500 per box, an almost 10-fold mark-up compared to the level before the virus outbreak.

Moreover, some of the products are not even up to the surgical standard.

Meanwhile, we have also seen a few fraud cases where unscrupulous merchants sold second-hand masks, or failed to deliver the masks after taking the money in advance.

Among other reports, one trader is said to have sold masks at as much as HK$50 per single piece. The buyer was said be a major financial institution, which had no choice but to buy at such huge cost so as to protect its workers.

Given the situation, people traveling to Korea and buying face masks there could very well make money if they choose to sell the products back home.

Thus, the tour might make commercial sense, even leaving aside the ultra-low trip cost.

Let's also bear in mind that Korea has become a hot destination after Hollywood gave it a big Oscar endorsement last Sunday.

EGL director Steve Huen Kwok-chuen said the tour, while benefiting travellers, would provide some work for his firm's staff amid the weak market.

As opposed to some Asian countries, South Korea still allows Hong Kong people to visit without quarantine requirement, so long as the visiting tourists leave a contact mobile number.

Starting from February 12, all passengers travelling from Hong Kong or Macau must travel with a functioning mobile phone and contactable phone number, according to a travel alert by Cathay Pacific.

A passenger can be denied entry into Korea if the verification process is unsuccessful.

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EJ Insight writer

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