Via JoongAng Daily: Plethora of plans to bounce back from MERS. Excerpt:
With the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coming to an end, the central and local governments are coming up with ways to help the depressed local economy recover, and companies are joining in.
Since Sunday, no more confirmed patients were reported for four consecutive days, leaving the total number of MERS cases in Korea at 182. The disease killed 33, resulting in a fatality rate of 18.1 percent as of Wednesday.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare is now focusing on containing the disease at the Hallym University Medical Center in eastern Seoul, where Patient No. 173 stayed until June 22, and Kaiser Hospital in Guri, Gyeonggi, where Patient No. 170 stayed until June 20. Quarantine measures for the two hospitals end on Monday for Hallym and Saturday for Kaiser.
When it comes to economic impact, the tourism industry was the most directly affected by MERS. According to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), the number of foreign tourists who cancelled trips to Korea was nearly 140,000 as of the end of June. It projects total losses of 120 billion won ($107 million) for the industry.
In an effort to bring tourists back to Korea, the Ministry of Justice Wednesday announced a comprehensive plan to make visas cheaper and more flexible.
“We are waiving visa fees for tour groups from China until Sept. 30,” said Vice Justice Minister Kim Ju-hyun on Wednesday, “and the same benefit goes to group tours from four Southeast Asian Countries: Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia.”
Usually, individuals on group tours have to pay $15 for visas.
The ministry is also extending the maximum length of stay for single-entry tourist visas from 90 days to 180 days. The extension applies to individuals who were issued single-entry tourist visas from March 1 to June 30. Those tourists may also enter Korea with an expired visa as long as it is within 180 days of the issue date.
Plus, people who have been issued group tour visas for Japan may stay up to 15 days in Korea without getting visas. Last year, 1.1 million Chinese group tourists visited Japan but transferred in Korea.
“These measures will make it more convenient for foreigners to visit Korea, which will lessen the country’s worries over the depressed tourism industry,” Kim said. “We expect it to revitalize not just the tourism industry but the entire economy.”
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon also emphasized Wednesday that one of the most urgent issues regarding the fatal respiratory disease is to attract foreign tourists again, especially considering the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s goal of hosting 20 million foreign tourists a year.
Seoul is the biggest tourist destination in Korea for foreign visitors. According to KTO, more than 12.3 million foreign tourists visited Korea in 2014 and 80.4 percent of them paid visits to Seoul.
“In order to overcome the crisis, we will do our best to bring back foreign tourists by working with travel agencies, accommodation businesses, restaurants and shopping centers,” Park said in remark to celebrate the first anniversary of his second term as mayor. “We are already preparing advertisements in China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia and putting in more than 10 billion won. I’m also considering going to those countries for promotions or special events.”
The city government thinks that attracting 20 million foreign tourists a year would be the equivalent of creating 420,000 new jobs and 22 trillion won of added value to the local economy.