South Korea lifted some travel restrictions since the Covid-19 pandemic started to ease on April 1 this year but it has not gone far enough, the Thai tourist board insist, adding they must go further otherwise those travellers will find other destinations with no constraints.
Thailand’s counterparts in the South Korean tourism business are also concerned. They believe the government’s remaining tough measures are driving Thai tourists into the arms of other nations happy to take their money.
The Gyeonggi Tourism Organisation (GTO), and Korean Air, recently invited Thai travel agents and tour operators to promote new tourism destinations in the Gyeonggi province, an area around the capital, Seoul.
The GTO reported that the number of Thai travellers to South Korea was the highest among Southeast Asian countries in 2019. But, Kang Dong-Han, director of the GTO’s international tourism department, made known that the RT-PCR test upon arrival was putting travellers off.
”There were complaints about the inconvenience and additional costs incurred from the test. Many may decide to book trips to Japan instead.”
The test requirement was eventually dropped on October 1 but there are still other obstacles to overcome.
Kang said that the countries that relaxed travel curbs have lured Thai tourists away from South Korea.
Japan, which reinstated visa-free travel for several countries, and Hong Kong, which lifted mandatory hotel quarantine for foreign arrivals from September 26, have been popular destinations for Thais.
“South Korean authorities will now have to consider retaining only the K-ETA (Korea Electronic Travel Authorisation) registration to boost competitiveness to attract tourists.”
Kang also added that Thais are reluctant to travel to South Korea because the nation renewed tougher measures against illegal Thai job seekers. Many Thai travellers have been turned away from the border, suspected of coming to work illegally.
”Thais planning to visit South Korea are concerned their K-ETA applications may be rejected and they may be denied entry by immigration authorities upon arrival due to strict screening.”
South Korean authorities made known the number of illegal Thais in the country has risen since they reopened the borders this year.
It is believed there are still more than 139,000 Thais working illegally in South Korea.
Kang added that the South Korean authorities have been trying to come up with measures to address Thai tourists’ concerns about the strict travel curbs but have not come up with a concrete plan.
“In the future, tourists may not be required to apply for a visa again to ensure easier entry, though they would still be required to register for a K-ETA. The K-ETA system will be improved further to ensure more accuracy in entry screening and ease of use.”
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