S. Korea unveils new policies to attract more foreign tourists

SEOUL, July 15th, 2010 — South Korea announced a set of sweeping measures Thursday to bolster its tourism industry, calling for the development of ecological attractions, expanding budget accommodations and easing visa rules for Chinese tourists.

President Lee Myung-bak presided over a pan-governmental tourism promotion meeting on Nami Island, a heavily visited destination 90 kilometers east of Seoul, in which new policies were unveiled to increase domestic and foreign tourists as part of the country’s efforts to create jobs, reports Yonhap.

“Our government expects these measures will help attract Chinese tourists preemptively, as they are emerging as the major customer of the world’s tourism market,” Yu In-chon, the minister of culture, sports and tourism, said in a press conference. “We also expect these plans will help boost domestic tourism and contribute to job creation.” By 2014, South Korea seeks to increase the annual number of foreign tourists to 12 million, compared to 7.8 million last year, and envisions locals will spend 14 days traveling a year on average, compared to the current nine. The growth in tourism is expected to bolster the country’s annual tourism income to US$13.5 billion from the current 9 billion and create 40,000 new jobs along the way, the ministry said.

Major strategies include developing six new quays for cruise ships on the southern resort island of Jeju, the western port city of Incheon and other coastal towns. Some 1,500 kilometers of eco-friendly trails also will be established with government support.

Visa restrictions for low- and modest-budget Chinese tourists will be considerably loosened both for individual and group tours, and all tour signs across the country will feature the Chinese and Japanese languages.

To vary and convenience accommodation, the government will seek to increase business hotels and make budget accommodations more accessible and tourist-friendly. An integrated reservation system for them will be devised.

South Korea has seen a steep increase in Chinese tourists in recent years, while the number of Japanese visitors, the major source of inbound tourism here, has been dwindling. Some 1.46 million Japanese tourists came during the first half this year, down 4 percent from the same period last year, while Chinese tourists increased by 35 percent to about 819,000.

The pan-governmental meeting, dubbed the “national employment strategy meeting,” brought together ministers of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism; the Ministry of Strategy and Finance; the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; the Ministry of Environment; the Ministry of Homeland and Maritime Affairs; and the Ministry of Justice.

Nami Island, where the meeting took place, is seen as a hub for inbound tourism, where hundreds of thousands of tourists from Japan, China and Southeast Asian countries come to search for the places where a popular Korean drama series that was broadcast throughout Asia, “Winter Sonata,” was filmed.

“President Lee said he was deeply impressed by the complete transformation of Nami Island that was a wasteland when he visited there in 1963,” Yu, the culture minister, said.

The government has designated three major ecological tourism attractions — Suncheon Bay on the southwestern coast, Upo Swamp in the southeast and the Demilitarized Zone along the border with North Korea, where a hiking trail opened this year. A popular trail along Jeju Island’s coast, called “Olle,” will also receive state support.