Nguyen Thi Thu Hien, 34 and her friends had their tickets from Singapore to Jeju Island canceled on August 9 because they did not have visas. The island, however, has a visa exemption policy for tourists.
Hien, from Hanoi, said she’d already visited Jeju back in 2018 under the visa exemption policy and wasn’t aware that it had changed when she booked the tickets for her and her friends to fly there from Singapore.
“When we got to the Changi Airport for check-in procedures, an employee told us to discuss the issue with the airline. A representative of Scoot Airlines said Vietnamese, Thai, Mongolians and people from certain other countries would no longer be able to enter Jeju Island under the visa exemption policy. The airline said it would refund our tickets,” Hien said.
Vu Quoc Hung, 31, who had booked tickets with 11 other Vietnamese to fly from Ho Chi Minh City to Jeju on August 11 via Singapore, had the same experience.
Hung’s group reached the Changi Airport and did some shopping and sightseeing before proceeding to check in for the Jeju flight. That was when a representative of Scoot Airlines informed them that their tickets had been canceled. Hung was the only one allowed to fly because he had a visa.
“At first, the airline wanted us to guarantee that 11 people would go and 11 people would return. We would have to pay $10,000 for each missing person. I agreed because I had confidence in the tourist background checking process. But in the end, they still did not allow us to fly,” Hung said, adding that some other passengers from Thailand or Indonesia also had their tickets canceled.
Unable to book a hotel in the middle of the night, the group of 11 tourists had to sleep at the airport.
“For nearly 24 hours, we had to sleep in the lobby. Everyone was tired because our plan had failed and there were additional costs. We had spent so much time preparing our paperwork, but there was no official announcement from the airline or immigration authorities in both Vietnsm and South Korea,” said Hong Duc, 28, one of the 11 tourists.
Hung said the sudden, unexplained ticket cancellations forced his company to compensate customers to the tune of VND100 million ($4,274), including ticket fees, Covid-19 testing fees, insurance fees hotel booking fees, among others.
A representative of the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) in Vietnam said Jeju Island still retains its visa exemption policy for Vietnamese tourists. Regarding Scoot Airlines not allowing Vietnamese tourists to fly to the island, it might have been the airline’s own measure for “cost mitigation” due to several cases of denied entry, the rep said.
Scoot Airlines has yet to make an official announcement on the issue, only saying all canceled tickets would be refunded within two weeks.
Jeju Island has executed a visa exemption policy for tourists for years, including for Vietnamese tourists, with certain conditions like flying on chartered flights or transiting through a third country. As Scoot Airlines operates direct flights to Jeju, many Vietnamese chose this airline to transit through Singapore without the need for a visa.
Since South Korea reopened its tourism post-Covid, the number of visitors to Jeju Island, a popular tourist destination, has markedly increased. Many however, have taken advantage of visa exemption policies to overstay.
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