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Govt. announces multiministry plan to ramp up foreign tourists

June 17, 2024 - 09:31 By Park Ga-young

Tourists dressed in hanbok tour Gyeongbokgung in downtown Seoul on Thursday. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, the number of tourists visiting the country from overseas stood at 4.86 million for the first four months of the year, nearing pre-pandemic levels. (Yonhap)

South Korea aims to enhance the entire experience for foreign tourists, from streamlining entry procedures to providing diverse tourist programs, the government announced Monday. The measures aim to address the slow recovery of tourism revenue -- the amount that inbound visitors pay for goods and services in the country -- despite the fast rebound of the number of tourists.

According to the Korea Tourism Organization Thursday, the number of foreign tourists visiting the country stood at 4.86 million for the first four months of the year, nearing 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels. However, what the KTO defined as tourism revenue from the same period stood only at 70 percent of what it was in 2019.

The government's goal is to attract 30 million tourists in 2027, with revenue from the sector reaching $30 billion. For this year, it has set a target of attracting 20 million foreign tourists. The current record of 17.5 million overseas visitors was set in 2019.

The government attributed the slow recovery in revenue to a shift from group to individual-based travel and from shopping-focused to cultural experience-centered tourism, leading to a decline in spending. In addition, the reduction in the average international tourist trip length from 7.2 days in 2018 to 6.5 days during the January to April period this year is also viewed as a challenge by the government.

Other issues the government plans to address include the lack of multilingual services for local transportation reservation apps and map apps with restaurant reviews.

In response, the government aims to streamline entry procedures, extend stay periods for those visiting on cruises and promote tourist spending by actively reflecting on-site feedback, according to the multi-ministry plan which involves the ministries of cultures, justice, labor, foreign affairs, education, finance, agriculture and employment.

Specifically, the government will lower the hurdles for entry by expanding infrastructure such as visa application centers and increasing personnel for visa processing to reduce the issuance time for tourism visas from countries with rising visitor numbers. There have been complaints that the period for visa issuance can take as long as over a month.

Electronic travel authorization (K-ETA) applications for groups will be improved by enabling batch applications, and passport automatic recognition technology functions will be introduced to simplify information input. Multilingual service expansion and the addition of document submission features will also enhance user convenience, according to the government.

A trial of the "K-Culture Training Visa," aimed at foreign nationals wishing to receive professional training in some aspect of Korean culture -- such as trainees at entertainment companies, for instance -- will begin within the year. Additionally, the possible introduction of a "Region-Specific Digital Nomad Visa" is under consideration for overseas remote workers interested in working in Korea while enjoying regional tourism.

To facilitate tourism outside of the Seoul metropolitan area, the convenience of using railways and rental cars will also be improved while supporting various local tourism programs linked to K-content, which is one of the top reasons tourists visit the country from overseas these days.

For instance, Changwon in South Gyeongsang Province will host a K-pop World Festival in November, and Pocheon in Gyeonggi Province and Incheon will provide tours of filming locations for the drama "Crash Landing on You."

Additional features such as multilingual services and seat selection functions will be added to the high-speed rail online reservation system. Rental car companies will be provided with information on international driving permits by country to ensure that tourists from overseas with valid international driving permits can rent cars without issues here.

Efforts will be made to expand the infrastructure for developing tourism in Korea. To address the labor shortage in Korean restaurants located in major tourist areas, the expansion of the scope for foreign employment permits (E-9) will be considered based on the evaluation of a pilot project for small to medium-sized businesses located in 100 local government jurisdictions to hire foreign workers as kitchen assistants, which kicked off in April.

More multilingual tour guides will be trained, especially for the growing number of tourists from Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The plans announced Monday will be carried out as soon as the second half of this year, according to the government.