Korea plans to expand visa benefits for tour groups and introduce K-culture and "workcation" (work plus vacation) visas, aiming to attract 20 million foreign tourists and create $24.5 billion in tourism revenue next year, the government announced, Friday.
The goal surpasses the industry's pre-pandemic peak in 2019, when Korea welcomed 17.5 million inbound travelers and made $20.7 billion in revenue.
The government announced the comprehensive plan to accelerate inbound tourism after the inter-ministerial meeting presided over by Prime Minister Han Duck-soo in the southern city of Gwangju.
To enhance Korea's accessibility for foreign travelers, the government will expand electronic visa fee waivers for tour groups. A similar move was temporarily launched for Chinese tour groups between September and December this year. The expansion will include tourists from Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. The application period will be extended until next year.
The government will also introduce a tentatively named K-culture training visa and a digital nomad visa next year to attract foreign nationals who are keen to explore Korean culture.
The K-culture training visa targets young foreign nationals who are interested in Korean content and willing to learn about the country's entertainment industry. The digital nomad visa will allow residence in Korea for one to two years while the holder maintains a job back home, to promote a workcation culture, which refers to a system of combining remote work with tourism.
The government will also make shopping and travel easier for foreigners.
Foreign mobile payment systems will be introduced in stores to allow inbound travelers to use payment methods from their home countries.
The government will develop a foreign traveler-exclusive mobility application that makes reservations for trains, buses and taxis, and develop an English version of the existing navigation service.
To tackle the industry's workforce shortage, the government will apply the E-9 migrant worker visa to the hotel and resort industry.
Korea's tourism industry lost around one-third of its workforce, dropping from 276,000 to 197,000, between 2019 and 2022, while revenue dropped from 26.8 trillion won to 17.9 trillion won in the same period.
According to a survey by the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, the tourist accommodation business still sees a 23 percent vacancy in its workforce and 60 percent of businesses need over a month to advertise for recruitment.
"Korea once received over 17 million foreign travelers before the pandemic but saw a sharp decline in foreign travelers to 970,000," Prime Minister Han said. "Fortunately, the tourism industry is recovering and expects to receive 10 million visitors by year-end. The government will fully commit to doing its utmost to enable the industry to reach an all-time high."