South Korea's largest airline, Korean Air, is leaving Croatian market. The company closed sales on the Seoul - Zagreb - Seoul route for entire 2021. summer season.
The well-known Korean airline launched a charter route between Seoul and Zagreb in April 2012. Since that year, Croatia has become a real hit among South Korean tourists who are coming to Croatia in a higher percentage year by year. The charter route was operated by B777-200ER and A330-200 aircraft, and on several occasions the largest type of aircraft from the airline's fleet at that time, the Boeing B747-400, also operated on this route. The charter route was in operation until the resumption of a regular route, until the beginning of September 2018.
On September 1st, 2018, Korean Air launched a regular route between Seoul and Zagreb with three flights a week; on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, A330-200 aircraft operated on this route with a capacity of 218 passengers. In the first two months, the Seoul - Zagreb route was one of the top 3 routes in the entire Korean Air network!
Korean Air operates to world metropolises such as Los Angeles, New York, London, Bankgkok and others. For two months, the Zagreb route was in the top 3 routes by passenger demand in Korean Air network!
The route operated in 2018/2019. winter season via Zurich (Seoul - Zagreb - Zurich - Seoul), until end of December with B777-200ER aircraft, and from January with the newest aircraft in the fleet of this carrier, B787-9 Dreamliner. Korean Air was also the first airline with this type of aircraft on a regular route to Zagreb.
Authorities in Croatia did not allow Korean Air to sell passenger tickets on Zagreb - Zurich segment.
From spring 2019 (end of March) the route was direct again, running three times a week, and in September the company increased capacity by replacing the A330-200 with the B787-9 (269 instead of 218 seats), while a fourth flight was introduced in September, on Fridays.
Korean Air has announced flights via Zurich for the winter of 2019/2020. These operations thus took place until the end of November 2019. The company then announced that it would temporarily cancel flights to Zagreb (and Zurich) during winter, so traffic was suspended in December, due to low demand.
Tickets on the direct route could be purchased for flights from March 2020, but due to the impact of the pandemic, the company canceled all flights to Zagreb for this year, laid off employees in Croatia and closed its office at the airport.
Almost until yesterday, there were flights on sale on this route for the summer of 2021, but those are now unavailable for booking, so it is obvious that Korean Air will not return to Zagreb next year, which is a completely expected move given that we will have to wait some more time for the recovery of the market, especially the distant ones.
Korean Air had no success in Zagreb and the company will certainly consider whether to restart this route at all in the future. Namely, high air ticket prices certainly did not attract passengers from Croatia to use this carrier both to Seoul and to other destinations to which Korean Air flies and with which the Zagreb route had good connections (destinations such as Tokyo, Beijing, Sydney, Auckland, Brisbane, etc.).
When we mention the possibility of connections on Zagreb route, flights from Zagreb were landing at Seoul Incheon Airport among the first from Europe, so waiting time for flights to a large number of destinations in Asia was quite long and demotivating for potential passengers.
Although the company said it has a huge problem with slots at Incheon Airport, it is not clear how the newly announced Seoul - Budapest route got a much more attractive landing time at Seoul's main airport than the existing Zagreb route.
If we talk about pricing, Korean Air did not check at all what competition was doing in Zagreb, so Croatian passengers traveled to Asian destinations by Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Qatar Airways and others. This could be tolerated in the first few months of operations, but certainly not later when Korean continued to operate on this route, offering, almost always, twice as expensive airfare prices than its competition, which operated daily from Zagreb (or even twice a day), while Korean Air had only three flights a week which is very limiting in terms of flexibility compared to other carriers.
Korean Air completely focused on bringing tourists to Croatia and the region, which made sense because a larger number of Korean tourists had previously traveled to Zagreb with other, previously mentioned carriers. It was South Korean passengers who made up a (too) large share in the passenger structure, the company completely neglected the local market and its passengers. If we add that the trade market between South Korea and Croatia is relatively small and that a relatively small number of Korean companies operate in Croatia (as well as Croatian ones in Korea), it is clear that the users of this route were mostly tourists and rare seamans from Croatia.
Although Korean Air offers excellent service on board and at airports, that is definitely not a reason for passenger to choose this company.
The return of this airline to Croatia is certainly possible with a charter route, both to Zagreb and Dubrovnik, which, as we found out, Korean Air planned for this year before the outbreak of global pandemic.
Unfortunately, a completely wrong pricing strategy, relatively poor connectivity for flights from Seoul to other destinations, a limited number of weekly flights combined with a global pandemic have closed any possibility of survival of this route.
Is there a possibility of a South Korean low-cost carrier coming to Croatia?
Given that the South Korean low-cost airline T'way has announced that it has received a license to operate regular flights between South Korea and Croatia, it remains to be seen whether the company may try to operate to one of the Croatian airports.
It should be noted that T'way does not have a wide-body aircraft in its fleet that could fly directly between Seoul and any Croatian airport (real options are Zagreb or Dubrovnik), but the company also announced that it plans to lease a wide-body aircraft soon and start with regular operations. The logical move would be to wait until the spring of next year.
Although the number of South Korean tourists in Croatia is high, which is confirmed by the figures published by the Central Bureau of Statistics, these data should be taken with caution. Why? Almost every tourist from South Korea who visits Croatia enters our country several times, considering that there are almost always destinations such as Bled in Slovenia and Mostar and Medjugorje in BiH on individual and group trips. The border police record every entry into Croatia, regardless of whether it is the first or repeated entry.
Korean tourists are known as those who wants to visit as many cities as possible in a very short time, clear evidence is that group trips began by landing in Zagreb on a regular Korean Air route (often over 11 hours flight time), followed by a bus ride to Bled and accommodation in a hotel. After that, in the next 7 days, until the return flight to Seoul, Korean tourists would visit numerous destinations by bus from Bled through Ljubljana, Istria, Zadar, Split, all the way to Dubrovnik, and return would be via Mostar and Medjugorje, Plitvice Lakes and finally Zagreb. The package also included trips that included landing in Frankfurt and traveling by bus all the way to Dubrovnik, as well as departure from Vienna, a visit to Budapest, Zagreb, our entire coast and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Until yesterday, 3 flights per week were on sale from the beginning of April until end of October with the B787-9 aircraft on regular Seoul - Zagreb - Seoul route for entire summer flight schedule in 2021. That would increase Korean Air's capacity, given that most of the summer flight schedule in 2019 on this route was in operation with A330-200 aircraft with smaller capacity.
Dreamliner was supposed to land at Zagreb Airport three times a week in 2021, offering 48 thousand seats on one of the most modern aircraft!
With the withdrawal of Emirates and Korean Air, Zagreb Airport is losing important partners. Given that just a few days ago Korean Air announced its acquisition, taking over Asiana Airlines, South Korea’s second-largest airline, actually creating a monopoly in a market of over 50 million passengers, it remains for us to follow what the company will do in the near future. One thing is for sure - the interest of South Korean passengers in Croatia will not disappear, they will come to our country again with the end of the global pandemic, the only question is whether they will have a direct route of the largest Korean company, a Korean low-cost carrier, or they will must transfer at some other airport on their way to Croatia.
안녕히 가십시오, goodbye Korean Air!