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(LEAD) S. Korea to crack down on substandard tour operators

All News 13:50 March 08, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details, comments in 4, 8-9 paras)
By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, March 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will revoke the licenses of tour operators that lure Chinese travelers with cheap, low-quality package tours to address growing complaints about substandard programs, the tourism ministry said Tuesday.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism unveiled a series of measures to tighten regulations on tour agencies specialized in Chinese travelers, the No. 1 tourist group to the nation.

Tour agencies targeting the Chinese have sprung up in recent years as the popularity of K-pop and Korean dramas have attracted more visitors from the Asian neighbor. But cutthroat competition has prompted some agencies to offer very cheap package programs that include filthy rooms and expensive options, often forcing tourists to drop by several souvenir shops to reap commissions.

In response to growing calls to improve service quality, the ministry said it will examine the licenses of 140 tour operators whose licenses expire this month to sort out substandard companies and conduct regular reviews on them. There are about 200 tour agencies specialized in Chinese tour programs.

It will also adopt a cash reward program to crack down on those who force travelers to go shopping or charge overpriced taxi fare. Operators who hire unqualified tour guides will also be kicked out under the new system.

The ministry said the measure could enhance the quality of tour services and improve the overall image of Korea to encourage travelers to revisit in the future.

"It is important that both the government and tour operators make concerted efforts to enhance the local tourism market," Culture Minister Kim Jong-deok said. "We will make efforts to encourage tourists to revisit Korea by developing specialized programs for VIP travelers, and step up marketing and promotions."

Though the tougher regulations could lower the number of inbound travelers in the short term, industry officials agreed on the need for the government-led initiative to upgrade the nation's tourism industry.

"The government should thoroughly adopt the new measures as the low-quality tour packages could negatively affect long-term growth," Yang Moo-seung, president of the Korea Association of Travel Agents, said. "It is an inevitable step to pursue sustainable growth and get ahead of the competition with other nations."

According to the state-run Korea Tourism Organization, one out of five Chinese travelers revisited the nation in 2015. Many first-time visitors said they are discouraged from coming here again due to low-quality tour packages and a lack of various cultural content.

The number of Chinese tourists visiting South Korea fell 2.3 percent on-year to 5.98 million people in 2015, hit by a Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak.

South Korea aims to attract 8 million Chinese tourists this year by offering various tour packages specialized in fashion, beauty, culture and leisure; adopting eased visa regulations; and expanding air routes between the two nations.


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