Tourist Boom in South Korea, Except for Its Top Southeast Asian Source

News Asia 360
ByNews Asia 360

Key Takeaways:

  • Lots more tourists are visiting South Korea this year, except for Thais.
  • Thailand used to send the most tourists from Southeast Asia to South Korea, but now they are number 3.
  • A new entry system (K-ETA) is causing trouble for Thai tourists.
  • Many Thais get rejected even with K-ETA approval, and nobody knows why.
  • This is hurting tourism between South Korea and Thailand, which are trying to work together.

South Korea’s tourism industry is booming with a surge in foreign visitors this year, but there’s a surprising exception: Thailand.

While tourists from China and Japan are flocking back in droves (up 470% and 86% respectively), Thai tourist numbers have significantly dropped (down 21.1%). This is despite an overall increase of 86.9% in foreign tourists compared to last year.

Thailand used to be the top Southeast Asian source of tourists for South Korea, but stricter entry rules have pushed them down to third place.

The culprit seems to be the new K-ETA system, which requires online pre-registration for travellers from Thailand unlike other Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and the Philippines (which have seen significant tourist increases too).

Many Thai tourists are facing rejections at the border despite K-ETA approval, and the lack of explanation for these rejections is causing frustration. These stories are spreading on Thai social media, discouraging others from visiting.

South Korea says the stricter rules are necessary to control illegal immigration, but Thailand’s tourism industry is worried. They are pushing for a temporary exemption from K-ETA for Thai tourists, especially since 2023-2024 is designated as the “Korea-Thailand Mutual Visit Year” to boost tourism between the two countries.

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