JEJU ISLAND, South Korea - The Jeju tourism office has urged Philippine authorities to quickly organize Jeju-bound tour groups that would also include visa-free access to mainland South Korea, the land of Hallyu and kimchi, starting May.
Rhee Kangil, chief marketing manager of Jeju Tourism Organization (JTO), confirmed reports that South Korea will soon allow Jeju-bound tour groups from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam to go to other parts of South Korea for five days, without visa, if they transfer at Incheon or Gimhae.
Incheon International Airport is South Korea's main airport, 27 kilometers away from the capital Seoul. Travelers can go by bus or train to Seoul from Incheon.
Gimhae International Airport is the landing point for economic zone Busan. Both are South Korea's busiest airports.
"The Korean government, they [authorities] have allowed Filipinos, Vietnamese, Indonesians to come to Korea using package tours," Rhee said, adding that the policy will be implemented in May.
Rhee said the rule applies to Chinese tourists but JTO is now eyeing visitors from Southeast Asian nations.
"The [visa-free] system [being offered] is when tourists using a package come to Korea and if there's Jeju [island] on the itinerary. It only applies to package tours but there has to be designated travel agencies. It cannot be any travel agency selling Korean packages," Rhee explained.
Unfortunately, only Vietnam and Indonesia have so far "designated travel agencies," and the Philippines has yet to give a list of accredited travel agencies.
"Filipino government has to designate travel agencies who will take care of [tourists]," Rhee said.
"The Philippines has not yet designated travel agencies, I don't know how long it takes but the Korean government will have to work with the Philippine government to designate the travel agencies," he added.
DOT: STILL NO REQUEST
The Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) acknowledged the new policy, but claimed South Korea has yet to officially request for a list of accredited tour agencies.
Tourism Undersecretary Bong Bengzon told ABS-CBN News the DOT assumes for now that the "Korean government will work for the development of tours."
"Well, we have not been approached officially. They can get in touch directly with any of the accredited tour operators but if there is a formal request to DOT, definitely we will help them out," Bengzon said in a phone interview.
Currently, Philippine passport holders may enter picturesque Jeju-island visa-free but must obtain a visa if traveling to mainland Korea. There are no direct flights to Jeju but Philippine Airlines has chartered flights, via Rakso Travel.
FOREIGN POLICY HITTING KOREAN TOURISM
South Korea is luring more Southeast Asian tourists after China called for the boycott of Korean goods and tours for allowing the deployment of an American anti-missile system called THAAD.
Jeju Island suffered the most, as cruise tours from China came to a halt.
"There is a reduced number of tourists from China. Some companies are on the verge of bankruptcy. To prevent that, we are trying to attract tourists from South East Asia," Rhee said.
Rhee said, of the 15 million tourists who traveled to Jeju Island in 2016, there were only 8,890 Filipinos.