Lunar New Year Complicating PyeongChang Travel Plans

(ATR) Getting to the Winter Olympics has become a major obstacle for international travelers staying in Seoul.

(ATR) Getting to the Winter Olympics has become a major obstacle for international travelers staying in Seoul.

Dates for the 2018 Winter Olympics fall during the Korean Lunar New Year, known as Seollal, which runs from Feb. 14-18. During this time, Korean Rail expects a high demand for tickets and is allowing Korean residents to purchase tickets ahead of anyone else on the morning of Jan. 17, according to a report from the Korea Herald.

A Korail email passed along to Around the Rings shows that international travelers will be able to reserve one seat during Seollal beginning on the afternoon of Jan. 17, many hours after Korean residents. Korail’s email says there is no guarantee tickets will be available to purchase, and extra purchases can be made during an as yet to be determined special period.

This has concerned travelers, who already bought multi-day passes to ensure smooth travel from Seoul to the Olympics.

"I have tickets to nine different events during those days, and I really hope that I don't have issues getting from Seoul to the two different event locations," Oren Katzen, an Olympic traveler from the U.S. told ATR. "In general I feel that the communication about transportation has been lacking, but this takes the cake. If I had known about this beforehand, I would have probably scheduled my trip for the second week of the Olympics."

A spokesperson for PyeongChang 2018 said Korail’s practices are not out of line with policies in years past, but all questions should be referred to them. Attempts to contact Korail were unsuccessful. The PyeongChang spokesperson did say if organizers would be eligible to receive other forms of transportation if they are shut out of train tickets.

Kyung Soo Lee, general manager of tourism and distribution at Korail, told the Korea Herald that consumers will be able to secure tickets, but likely without assigned seats. To do so customers must go to rail stations the day of travel and purchase standing room tickets, if any are available.

"Of course it may still be difficult to get a standing ticket depending on the situation, but there will be 51 trains going to Gangneung each day, at 20-minute intervals," Lee said. "Even if you cannot get a ticket for the time you need, you can still take one 20 minutes later and watch the Games."

Still, with a lack of communication and organization for foreign tourists, Katzen says tourists should have been told about this when purchasing tickets. He says there are many others venting to social media sites Facebook and Reddit about the situation.

"I think what it comes down to is that thousands of foreigners have already spent thousands of dollars on plane tickets, accommodation, event tickets, and the KTX pass, only to find out that there is no guarantee that they will be able to get to the events," Katzen said.

"Even if we do manage to get standing room tickets by going to the train station and hoping (as Korail officially suggested we do), you'll end up with a train full of locals who get to sit and enjoy the comfort of having a reserved spot, and foreigners standing around. Paints a great image of hospitality and Olympic spirit."

Written by Aaron Bauer

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