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S. Korea to exempt visa fees, increase flights for Chinese tourists

South Korea's finance ministry said Monday it plans to lift visa processing fees for Chinese tourists through the end of this year and increase the number of flights in line with efforts to attract more Chinese visitors.

The latest move came three weeks after China's tourism authorities announced the decision to lift the ban on group tours to South Korea, ending a six-year hiatus caused by frayed relations following the deployment of a U.S. defense system here.

From 2017 to 2019, the average number of Chinese tourists visiting South Korea came to 4.99 million annually.

While the figure came to just 540,000 over the January-June period of this year, the number of visitors is widely expected to start a full-fledged recovery in the fall on the back of normalized international travel and Beijing's updated policies.

The government plans to attract 1.5 million additional Chinese tourists in the second half, with a goal of reaching 2 million for all of 2023. The figure is expected to contribute to a 0.16 percentage-point growth in South Korea's gross domestic product.

In order to attract more tourists, South Korea plans to lift visa processing fees, currently set at 18,000 won (US$13.6) for visitors arriving in groups, until the end of December.

The country also opened two additional visa centers in China, raising the total number of such offices to seven.

South Korea added it will "proactively" approve additional flights between the two countries.

In August, the number of weekly flights between South Korea and China came to 697, which is around 63.4 percent of the number posted in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government will also develop package programs that connect to the annual Korea Sale FESTA -- the Korean equivalent of Black Friday -- scheduled in November.

South Korea plans to immediately refund value-added taxes for foreign tourists through mobile payment platforms as well, with the service being available for WeChat Pay starting in October. The service for UnionPay and Alipay will start in December, the government added.

The government will begin expanding efforts to crack down on unauthorized accommodations and tour guides in September.

Source: Yonhap News Agency