Thai tourists to continue shunning South Korea
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Thai tourists to continue shunning South Korea

Strict immigration rules and weak Thai economy contributing factors

Tourists visit the Beopjusa Temple on Songnisan Mountain, about 140 kilometres southeast of Seoul in South Korea. (Photo: Chairith Yonpiam)
Tourists visit the Beopjusa Temple on Songnisan Mountain, about 140 kilometres southeast of Seoul in South Korea. (Photo: Chairith Yonpiam)

The number of Thai tourists visiting South Korea is expected to continue declining in the second half year-on-year, after a sharp drop in the first four months attributed to strict immigration rules and a stagnant Thai economy.

Charoen Wangananont, president of the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA), said it would take at least a year or two for South Korea to regain the confidence of Thai tourists.

Mr Charoen said Thai tourists are switching to other destinations to avoid rejection from the Korea Electronic Travel Authorisation system and strict immigration rules, amid continuing reports of Thais being denied entry at the border.

Thailand and South Korea launched a campaign titled “2023-2024 Korea-Thailand Mutual Visit Years” to promote tourism between the two nations.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding with various Korean partners, including the Korea Association of Travel Agents and Boryeong City to promote the Songkran festival and Boryeong mud festival.

The TTAA also signed an agreement with its South Korean counterparts.

According to data from the Korea Tourism Organization, Thailand ranked eighth in foreign arrivals, recording 119,455 visitors or 2.5% of the total, from January through April this year.

The number was down 21% from 151,480 visitors during the same period last year.

In 2023, 379,442 Thai tourists visited South Korea, accounting for 3.4% of the country’s 11 million international arrivals. That figure compared to 571,610 visits in 2019.

Before online campaigns emerged to advise against travel to South Korea because of entry difficulties, the country was one of the top three destinations among Thais, but those days are over, said Mr Charoen.

Newcomers such as Vietnam and China have overtaken South Korea, attributed to a variety of products at lower prices and convenient entry via a visa-free programme for Thai visitors, and without discouraging news about travellers being deported.

Mr Charoen said tour operators from Thailand and South Korea must work more closely to improve sentiment, along with presenting new attractions to revive tourism confidence.

However, he said it will not be easy as Thai tourists have been impacted by their stagnant economy, as seen from the declining stock market and low GDP growth.

These factors have been hampering overall outbound tourism, not only South Korea, while airfares and travel prices are still high.

In the second half, Mr Charoen said short-haul destinations would gain a greater share in the market, thanks to lower travel costs, but the top choice for Thai tourists would remain Japan due to the weak yen.

The TTAA forecasts 7 million outbound tourists in 2024 and expects a strong resumption late in the year, which is the high season for Thai travellers.

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