The Cabinet on Tuesday approved a decree to allow foreign tourists tax reimbursements of up to 50,000 won ($42) in South Korea without visiting the customs office when they leave the country.
The move is part of the government’s effort to revitalize the local tourism industry, which was seriously hit by the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome in the second quarter.
Formerly, inbound visitors had to apply to the customs office at the airport for a value-added tax refund of 10,000 won or more. They had to present both receipts and goods at the office.
This has been regarded as one of the few inconveniences or hurdles in terms of attracting more visitors, including a growing number of shoppers for local cosmetics products.
Under the revision, foreign shoppers don’t need to visit the office as long as they purchase a product priced at up to 750,000 won, which correlates to a refund of 50,000 won.
Myeongdong, a major shopping district in downtown Seoul, brims with visitors on June 28. (Yonhap)
A record high of 14.2 million foreign nationals visited the country in 2014, compared to 12.2 million a year before. The government has set the goal of attracting 20 million tourists by 2017, and was planning to boost services to cater to the growing number of Chinese visitors.
The flow of visitors, however, slowed from late May to early July due to the MERS outbreak, which claimed 36 lives. The government declared a de facto end to the outbreak on July 28.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has striven to attract more tourists over the past few years.
Starting from Jan. 1, 2014, foreign tourists using tourist hotels in Korea are enjoying discounts of up to 10 percent through tax reimbursements. Formerly, foreigners had to pay the same amount as Korean nationals when using accommodations.
Other promotion measures included the establishment of a special police force to monitor and crack down on illegal tourism businesses and exploitation of tourists such as unlicensed tour guides who overcharge foreign visitors. The ministry also took the initiative to train migrant women from overseas as licensed interpreters and tour guides.
As another measure -- that would require parliamentary approval -- the tax authority is considering offering tax refunds to foreigners who have cosmetic surgery in Korean hospitals when they leave the country.
By Kim Yon-se (firstname.lastname@example.org)