SEOUL, March 29 (Korea Bizwire) — South Korea will temporarily exempt people from 22 visa-waiver nations, including the United States, Japan and Taiwan, from mandatory online travel permits and transit visa requirements as part of efforts to attract more foreign tourists and boost domestic demand, the finance ministry said Wednesday.
These are a set of measures aimed at attracting 10 million foreign tourists this year and revitalizing the economy amid an economic slowdown, and they also call for giving discount coupons and subsidies for domestic travelers, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
The measures were announced during an emergency meeting on economic and public livelihood matters presided over by President Yoon Suk Yeol.
The number of foreign visitors to South Korea hit a record high of 17.5 million in 2019, generating tourism revenue of US$20.7 billion, according to data compiled by the Korea Tourism Organization.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of visitors dropped sharply to 2.5 million in 2020 and 967,000 in 2021, before increasing to 3.19 million in 2022.
People from 22 nations, including Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, the U.S., Canada and Britain, will be able to enter South Korea without getting a permit through the online travel permit system, the Korea Electronic Travel Authorization (K-ETA), by the end of next year if they visit the country for sightseeing and attending events.
The K-ETA is required for travelers from 110 visa-waiver nations, and the 22 countries were chosen as the entry rejection rate among their nationals “is quite low,” according to the ministry.
South Korea also plans to resume transit visa exemptions for transit passengers from 34 nations, including the U.S. and European countries, to allow them to stay here for up to 30 days.
Group tourists from China can stay for up to five days in the city where the domestic airport that they use is located or the Seoul metropolitan area if they transit through the southern resort island of Jeju, about 450 kilometers south of Seoul, the ministry said.
The government will also ease conditions for visa issuance for group visitors from Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, while creating new visa programs for high-income foreigners and for young people.
The number of international flights will be increased to the pre-pandemic level.
The government will increase flights to and from China to 954 per week by September from the current 63 flights, and those for Japan will rise to 1,004 per week from the current 863 flights.
South Korea also vowed to offer various large-scale events related to K-pop, shopping, food and other cultural items.
Major K-pop concerts will take place across the country from May through October, including the Seoul Festa 2023 slated for April and a concert to be held in the port city of Busan in May.
More online duty-free shops will open for foreigners, and discount coupons and various events will be available during the upcoming duty-free festival in May, according to the ministry.
The government plans to come up with a variety of tour programs centered on medical services, as well as major events on Korean alcoholic beverages, beef, seafood and various foods, it added.
In an effort to encourage more South Koreans to opt for domestic travel, the government plans to provide 30,000 won (US$23.08) discount coupons for up to 1 million people to support their accommodation fees.
Some 190,000 workers affiliated with small and midsized firms will be able to receive a 100,000 won subsidy for a local trip, and the government will lower railroad fares and offer discount coupons for visitors of major tourist attractions.
For the measures, the government will set aside 60 billion won, according to the ministry.
People will also be able to enjoy a greater tax deduction for their spending on books, art performances and cultural events, with the deduction rate to rise to 40 percent of such expenditures from the current 30 percent.
It will also raise the deduction rate for purchases at traditional markets from the current 40 percent to 50 percent to spur spending.
The moves came as South Korea is struggling to spur its economic growth momentum amid weak private spending and dwindling exports during a global economic slowdown.
Retail sales, a gauge of private spending, decreased 2.1 percent in January, extending losses to a third month. The Bank of Korea forecast the South Korean economy to grow 1.6 percent this year.
“We must strive to revive the economy by boosting domestic consumption,” Yoon said, noting continued economic difficulties caused by high inflation, aggressive monetary tightening policy and various external factors.