South Korea will refund foreign visitors value-added tax on their hotel expenses, expand issuance of multiple-visas for those from China and Southeast Asia, and clamp down on irregularities against tourists, the government said Wednesday.

The Culture, Sports and Tourism Ministry announced the measures to boost the local tourism industry at the first tourism promotion meeting presided by President Park Geun-hye at Cheong Wa Dae.

Park called tourism one of the vital new growth engines for the Korean economy, and ordered her team to implement bold regulatory reforms to solve difficulties and investment obstacles for constant creation of new services and products.

“Tourism is a representative fusion industry where various sectors are combined, and it is a high value added industry where we can create many job opportunities,” Park said during the meeting.

Park also underscored the need for close collaboration among the related ministries with the Culture, Sports and Tourism Ministry, such as the Environment Ministry in promoting eco-friendly tourism, Health and Welfare Ministry in medical tourism, and Oceans and Fisheries Ministry in cruise tourism.

The participants included Deputy Prime Minister Hyun Oh-seok, the ministers of education, security, culture, food, welfare, environment, transport and oceans, and the heads of various tourism-related organizations. They discussed ways to alleviate inconveniences suffered by foreign visitors, improve tourism investment, foster fusion and high value-added businesses and develop unique tourism content for the country, presidential spokeswoman Kim Haing said.

Park’s attention to building the country’s tourism sector is reminiscent of her father former President Park Chung-hee, who had planned to raise tourism as one of the country’s strategic industries by conjuring up support measures to go hand-in-hand with the nation’s export industry, a Cheong Wa Dae official explained.

As of last year, Korea garnered US$14.2 billion in revenue in tourism by attracting some 11 million foreign visitors.

In the report, the Culture Ministry said it hopes to attract some 16 million foreign tourists by 2017 and raise the yearly revenue in tourism to $24 billion. The number of those who work in Korea’s tourism industry is expected to rise to 1 million by 2017, the ministry also said. Last year, the number of jobs in the industry was recorded at 850,000.

The government said that from Jan. 1 next year, foreign tourists using tourist hotels in Korea will up to 10 percent discount through tax reimbursement. Currently, foreign visitors pay the same amount as Korean nationals when using accommodation.

Various tax reductions will be provided for investors to tourism businesses as well, the government added.

Other measures include creating 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 plans to educate migrant women from overseas as licensed interpreters and tour guides.

“Korea must ease the inconveniences of tourists and think from their perspective, and push tourism forward as the core of its service industry,” said Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong. “We hope to make Korea into a country where foreign visitors want to visit again and locals can also travel conveniently, by diligently and effectively working on the planned tasks we reported today.”

The government also plans to enact follow-up measures early to allow Korean-run cruise ships to open foreigners-only casinos aboard to revitalize the casino and cruise-related industry, according to officials.

The current law allows the opening of foreigner-only casinos on cruise liners, but the government has so far been reluctant to legislate relevant regulations.

“Government ministries shared the view that the opening of the casinos on cruise ships is key to fostering Korea’s cruise-related industry,” said a spokesman for the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

A domestic cruise liner Harmony Cruise with capacity to accommodate up to 1,000 passengers launched in February last year, but it went bankrupt at the end of last year, allegedly due to its failure to get a license for onboard casinos.

According to the ministry, the profitability of a cruise line heavily depends on income from the operations of an onboard casino. About 20 to 50 percent of total sales of a cruise ship come from its onboard gambling business.

In a closing comment, Park ordered the Culture Ministry to oversee the follow-up measures and to establish a monitoring system to thoroughly check the progress.

She also emphasized that tourism policy should be tailored to structural and scientific needs, and to create tourism resources and products from Korea’s unique and original values.

“There is a saying the devil lies in the details. Even if there are excellent tourism resources, it will fail to become a good destination if the tourists feel extorted or treated rudely,” Park said. ___