11 July 2024

The number of Thais visiting South Korea between January and April this year decreased by 21% year-on-year, mainly due to unexplained entry refusals at the border.

Thais going to South Korea have fallen behind Vietnam and the Philippines, according to the South China Morning Post.

This is in contrast to the overall number of foreign tourists, which increased by 87% during the same period, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

In 2019, Thailand was the top Southeast Asian country in terms of tourists to South Korea, with 572,000 visitors, surpassing Vietnam (554,000) and the Philippines (504,000)

Industry experts attribute the decline to negative sentiment arising from entry refusals at South Korea’s borders. Seoul has introduced the K-ETA (Korea Electronic Travel Authorisation) system, which requires travellers from 112 countries to register and obtain entry approval online before departing for South Korea.

Despite online registration, a large number of Thai tourists have been denied entry upon arrival in Seoul, without a clear explanation for the rejection, fuelling dissatisfaction.

The Post indicated that the entry refusal stories have gone viral on Thai social media and this has contributed to a decline in tourist numbers.

The stricter entry requirements for Thai nationals are partly due to Thailand being South Korea’s leading source of illegal immigrants.

The Korean Justice Ministry has emphasised that the measures are necessary to prevent illegal immigration and are not discriminatory against Thais.

The tourism authorities, aiming to attract 20 million foreign tourists annually are, however, concerned about the decline.

“It can only be explained by the K-ETA issue,” a Thai Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism official said, adding “Despite our request for a temporary exemption from using the system this year, which has been designated as Visit Korea Year, the Ministry of Justice remains firm on its stance.”