While the prospects for Korea's tourism sector are bright, the country could facilitate growth by further easing its visa rules, according to the head of an international travel industry forum.
In an e-mail interview with The Korea Times, World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) President David Scowsill said he was encouraged with the way the Korean government is working to integrate tourism into its economic growth policies.
"Korea has embraced travel and tourism as a strategic economic priority and has dedicated attention and resources to ensuring the unique culture and heritage of the country is sustained and showcased for tourists to experience," he said.
The WTTC forecasts that the tourism industry's direct contribution to Korea's economy in 2014 will grow by 3.9 percent, up from 2.1 percent last year. The sector will grow at an annual average of about three percent over the next decade.
The group predicts that the total contribution of travel and tourism to the global economy is expected to grow by 4.2 percent this year, higher than the 3.9-percent growth last year.
While inter-Korean tensions repel some travelers from visiting Korea, Scowsill believes that the country has been managing its North Korea-related problems well.
"The increase in tensions with North Korea at the beginning (of the year) did not help the reputation of the country globally, but this was a short-term issue. Korea responded well by increasing international marketing and will have to ensure that it is remaining well-publicized in a very competitive world," said Scowsill.
He said Korea generally did well in terms of visa access but said every government can always do more.
"Last year, Korea introduced several visa-facilitation policies, including an agreement with Russia, which mutually cancelled visa requirements, and granting a multiple-entry visa for Chinese tourists. Korea should be congratulated for introducing progressive visa policies in the last year," he said.
"(The) WTTC would encourage Korea to continue in this same vein and join in regional visa schemes with neighboring countries, multiple-entry visas and increased visa processing capacity. Continued moves to improve people's freedom to travel to Korea will only bring greater social and economic rewards for the country."
The WTTC's first Asia Summit was held in Seoul last year, but there is still only one Korean company — Lotte Group, led by President Shin Dong-bin — registered as one of the 130 members of the WTTC. Scowsill hopes more Korean companies will join the global tourism council.
"(The) WTTC is the only global organization which represents the private sector organizations, and I am confident that more Korean companies will see the benefit of membership in the coming years," he said.