China will allow travel agencies in Beijing and Shandong to partly resume sales of group tours to South Korea, in a sign of thawing relations between the nations that have been locked in a year-long diplomatic standoff.
However, executives from tour agencies in the regions said they had been told not to include in their travel packages units of South Korean retail-to-chemicals giant Lotte Group - which provided land for the installation of a U.S.-backed anti-missile system that Beijing vehemently opposed.
China had banned all group tours to the neighbouring country since March in the wake of South Korea's decision to install the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. Beijing worries the THAAD's powerful radar can penetrate Chinese territory.
In South Korea, a halving of inbound Chinese tourists in the first nine months of the year cost the economy $6.5 billion in lost revenue based on the average spending of Chinese visitors in 2016, official data shows.
But a late October agreement between the countries to move past the dispute had boosted hopes group tours may be allowed in the near future.