Already, South Korean carrier Asiana Airlines announced that it would reinstate direct flights between Seoul and L.A. in December after a 17-year hiatus. It also plans to add nonstop flights between Seoul and Seattle. Korean Air said it would also increase flights to Los Angeles next spring.
The potential boost in travelers comes at a time when the local tourism industry is showing signs of weakening -- a product of the nation's economic trouble, analysts say.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, November 05, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Tourism: An article in the Business section on Friday about the lifting of a visa requirement for some overseas visitors to the United States misidentified PKF Consulting, which monitors the hotel industry, as BKF Consulting.
"With the acceleration of the financial crisis the last 45 days or so, we're seeing an increased downturn in travel," said Bruce Baltin, senior vice president of BKF Consulting Corp., which monitors the hotel industry.
"Right now, it's more from the corporate segment than leisure segment. . . . International travelers are very valuable to our economy. With the L.A. hotel industry not doing so well, we could obviously use a boost."
Baltin estimates that occupancy in Los Angeles hotels declined 6% to 8% this month compared with the same time last year, the largest such drop since the post-9/11 slump. A sustained funk could soon jeopardize jobs and force hotels to scale back services such as food and beverages, Baltin said.
Partly in response to national security concerns, the visa requirements will not change until South Korea and the other countries implement an electronic authorization system for outbound tourists so that U.S. officials can vet visitors before they arrive. They must also finalize agreements on sharing law enforcement intelligence and show that their recent visa rejection rates have not exceeded a U.S.-set threshold.
The countries have until Jan. 12 to set up the authorization systems, but U.S. authorities hope that everything will be in place much sooner, perhaps by late November.
The expansion can't come too soon for businesses such as New Global Travel Service in Koreatown. Revenue has sunk 30% compared with this time last year, the worst since the Sept. 11 attacks, the firm said.
The president of the 33-year-old company plans to fly to South Korea on Wednesday to meet with travel agencies in hopes of signing partnerships to seize on the potential growth in visitors.
"Its been so slow," said John Park, a sales associate. "We could definitely use the extra business."