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Government vows to treat foreign tourists right

Culture Ministry announces plans to eradicate tourist rip-offs, increase number of licensed tour guides


A Japanese tourist who took a call van from Dongdaemun to Chungmuro, both in central Seoul, was taken aback when the driver demanded 330,000 won for the 2 km ride. The driver even locked up the protesting tourist in the car for five minutes.

Another group of Japanese tourists was told to pay 50,000 won for one kimchijeon (a Korean-style pancake made with kimchi) and two bottles of beer at a covered cart near Namdaemun market in central Seoul.

These are but a couple of incidents reported in the local press, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which announced plans on Monday to eradicate practices that tarnish Korea’s image as a tourism destination.

“Such situations are crucial problems that hold back the development of Korea’s tourism industry, which is moving into the 20 million tourist era. We will tackle the issues seriously at the pan-government level to offer fair and dignified services to foreign travelers,” said Shin Yong-eon, head of the Culture Ministry’s Tourism Industry Department.

The Culture Ministry’s plans can be summarized in five points ― eliminate rip-offs, improve low-priced travel packages used by Chinese tourists, increase the number of licensed tour guides, eradicate overpriced medical tourism fees and secure the safety of Koreans traveling abroad.

To eradicate rip-offs, the Culture Ministry said it will strengthen its supervision of vendors jointly with local governments and the National Police Agency, as well as distribute correct information through the Visit Korea website (www.visitkorea.com) and SNS services. It also plans to link 1330, a tourism information phone number, with 112, the emergency number for police assistance, so that travelers can immediately report to the police in their native languages, such as English, Japanese, Chinese.

Success of the plan depends, however, largely on the conscience of the Korean workers, such as call van operators, and it is difficult to catch them on the spot, said Shin, adding that everyone living and working near such operators should act as monitors by reporting to the police and informing tourists.

To deal with low-priced tour packages aimed at Chinese tourists, the Culture Ministry hopes to legislate a tourism law that will regulate exaggerated advertisements and have tourism agencies specialized for Chinese tourists renew their business guideline to prevent unreasonably low-priced packages or bribery.

The Culture Ministry also announced plans to establish a system to scope out unlicensed tour guides and even suspend the operation of travel agencies that hire such guides.

In terms of overpriced medical tourism, the Culture Ministry vowed to work with the Ministry of Health and Welfare to better track down illegal brokers, and have medical institutions directly explain the medical fees to the patients.

In addition, the ministry will make travel agencies inform Koreans who wish to travel abroad of travel bans and travel advisories. It will also conduct special education for travel agencies specializing in pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

By Park Min-young (claire@heraldcorp.com)
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