Visa-free entry will boost South Korea’s ailing tourism industry – report

Bukchon Hanok Village in Seoul. Source: Shutterstock

VISA-FREE entry for visitors from Southeast Asian nations should be introduced in order to boost South Korea’s ailing tourism industry, a report said on Monday.

The report from the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), as reported by Yonhap, highlights the dismal performance of South Korea’s tourism industry in recent months.

International tourists are shunning the nation, with a 24 percent drop in the number of incoming travelers between January and September compared to the same period last year, the report said.

The amount that visitors are spending is also dropping from an average of US$1,247 in 2014 to US$991 last year. And those visitors that do come are not venturing further than the tourist hot spots of Seoul and the southern island of Jeju. Last year, the proportion of foreign visitors that came for those two destinations was 98.2 percent, up from 89.9 percent in 2011, the report said.

Jungmun Daepo Coast Jusangjeolli Cliff, Jeju Island, South Korea. Source: MEzairi/Shutterstock

The steep drop in numbers occurred after May, following a diplomatic spat between Beijing and Seoul.

In light of escalating tensions with North Korea, Seoul deployed a US missile shield to guard against the threat, raising the ire of Beijing and prompting it to place a ban on package tours to South Korea. The move halved the number of travelers from China that had been a major driving force behind South Korean tourism.

SEE ALSO: South Korea: Jeju Island soldiers on despite dwindling Chinese arrivals

Both China and South Korea indicated last week that they wanted to put the dispute behind them, hopefully opening up the avenue for Chinese tourists to return to the country in time for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“The external trouble points for South Korea’s tourism industry can recur at any time,” the report said. “While we get ready for an increase in the number of Chinese visitors, we have to continue our efforts to diversify the market and to change the basic structure of the market.”

Recommendations from the KCCI include allowing visa-free entry to people coming from India and Southeast Asia. It took as example measures by Japan, which from 2014 allowed entry without visas for travelers from Indonesia who hold e-passports. Taiwan, likewise, has adopted a visa-free system for visitors from the Philippines from this month.

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“We need to apply the visa waiver system to Indonesia, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations,” the report said.

“It would be worth doing the same for India, which is a rising market.”

The group has also suggested developing attractive tourist destinations outside of Seoul and Jeju. Proposals include an ecological park out of Korea’s demilitarized zone.

As the PyeongChang Winter Games fast approach in February, organizers hope the tourists return in time to fill seats at the hugely expensive event. According to Skift, with less than 100 days to go before the Games start only 30 percent of the target of 1.1 million tickets have been sold. And there’s still a US$270 million shortfall in the local Games committee’s US$2.5 billion budget.