SEOUL, Dec. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea announced a package of policy measures, including the expansion of a visa-free stay program, on Thursday to help the country's flourishing tourism trickle down to smaller regional provinces.
The measures were discussed in a government meeting on strategies to promote regional tourism held in the southern city of Cheongju.
Presided over by Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon, the meeting was attended by the culture, health and transportation ministers as well as vice ministers from the finance, education, foreign affairs, justice and agriculture ministries and officials from tourism-related government bodies.
The meeting came up with four major policy measures including, most notably, a new visa program with Southeast Asian countries and the expansion of the country's visa-free stay program to regional airports.
"(South Korea) plans to sign a treaty with ASEAN to allow young people from the region to enjoy regional tours and language studies while staying in South Korea up to one year," according to a government press release.
The government will also open new flight routes linking South Korea's regional airports to countries like Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia while newly allowing foreigners to stay up to 72 hours at South Korean regional airports without a visa starting in 2020.
The visa-free program is currently available for foreigners who transfer through Incheon International Airport.
The measures came as South Korea's hosting of foreign tourists is expected to hit a record high in 2019. The 2019 number of foreign tourists is estimated to reach 17.4 million, up from 15.4 million a year earlier.
The government hopes the burgeoning tourism in the country could trickle down to smaller cities and counties.
In a bid to facilitate the vision, the government will also reconfigure the public transportation networks linking regional airports to major tourist sites and to the capital area and step up efforts to promote Korean tourism at overseas conventions and major online tourist sites.
It will also seek a law revision to legally prohibit overcharging practices at beach facilities and some hospitality businesses that plague consumers during peak season.
"Regional (cities) are grappling with shrinking economies stemming from decreasing and aging populations ... the very promising solution to that would be (promoting) tourism," Lee said during the Thursday meeting.
"Through these measures, the government will open up a new era of hosting 20 million foreign visitors and 380 million domestic trips with a (consumer) tourism expenditure of 120 trillion won (US$101.1 billion)," the government said.
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