SEOUL, Nov. 2 (Yonhap) — The number of agencies for overseas trips in South Korea sank to a near four-year low this year due to travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, data showed Monday.

South Korea had 8,963 international travel agencies as of the end of September, down 5.3 percent, or 503, from the end of December, according to the data from the Korea Tourism Association.

It represents the lowest tally since the 8,948 recorded in December 2016.

After peaking at 9,732, the number had been on a steady decline in the wake of the pandemic that started in China in December and began to spread fast to other parts of the world.

Industry watchers said the drop in the number of travel agencies focused on overseas tours came as the travel restrictions induced by the pandemic made it impossible for them to sell overseas package tours.

With no immediate signs of an improvement in the coronavirus situation in sight, some major travel agencies are seeking to downsize or overhaul their overseas tour operations.

Other overseas travel agencies are turning to the domestic tour market in a desperate bid to overcome the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, they added.

In late September, top tour agency Hana Tour Co. joined hands with No. 2 airline Asiana Airlines Inc. to offer domestic sightseeing flights to pandemic-weary air passengers.

They are also seeking help from the government. In a statement issued last month, the Korea Association of Travel Agents demanded the government ease the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine rule for inbound travelers.

Local travel agencies have called on the government to establish a quarantine-free travel pact, known as a travel bubble, with Hong Kong, Singapore and other countries to help rescue the ailing tourism industry.