Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Fri August 14 2015

South Korea Offers Free Travel Insurance to All Tourists

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | August 14, 2015

South Korea Offers Free Travel Insurance to All Tourists

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

South Korea is taking an unprecedented step to lure foreign tourists back to its shores. The recent Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak has made travelers wary of the Northeast Asian nation. Tens of thousands have already canceled planned trips over the past two months.

According to authorities in Seoul, the danger of contracting the disease, which is often fatal, has now passed. The most recent outbreak saw 186 people sickened and 36 have died since the first case was reported in May.

Thousands more people were affected because they had to be quarantined after coming into contact with infected people. All quarantine orders have been lifted, and no new cases have been reported in recent weeks. It seems that authorities might be correct when they say that the worst is over. 

Tourism industry in free fall

The biggest side effect of the outbreak is that tourism profit figures have plummeted dramatically. In early May, before the outbreak, tourism revenue was up 20 percent compared to the previous year. Income earned from travelers is now 50 percent lower than a year ago. And summer is supposed to be the busiest time of year for tourism in South Korea.

Insurance for all

South Korea is trying to ease travelers’ fears by offering something that is quite unprecedented. Each international visitors who passes through immigration will be automatically signed up for a free travel insurance policy that will cover them if they contract MERS during their stay in the country. The government is also staffing a call center that foreign visitors can contact with MERS-related questions.

Actually, the insurance scheme is only one of many things that Korean authorities are doing to increase the number of visitors. The most popular attractions in the country are being stocked with cleaning agents and hand sanitizer dispensers. Tour buses are being similarly equipped. If the disease is already under control as they claim, Korean authorities are simply putting these measures in place to ease tourist fears. It is, more or less, a PR move. 

All retail and entertainment industries in the country are lagging. Not only are foreigners staying away, South Koreans are deciding to stay home because they want to avoid contact with others. The once-robust leisure sectors are only a shadow of what they were two-and-a-half months ago.

Banking on their Asian connections

A majority of Korea's international visitors come from China, Taiwan and other East Asian countries.

The government is launching a major advertising campaign aimed at travelers in these countries. The effort will feature some of the most famous stars from South Korea's well-known pop music scene. K-pop is hugely popular all across the Asia-Pacific region and is part of the reason that the country's profile as a tourist destination has grown so much in recent years.

The promotion efforts will be focused on music and music video streaming services and websites. Actors and singers will be featured alongside a brand new tourism slogan: Korea, Let Your Story Begin. 

Insurance for MERS only

It should be noted that the type of travel insurance being given to tourists is specifically related to MERS. If they have an accident or fall ill because of some other disease, they will not be covered by the complimentary policy. The insurance will be offered to everyone who enters the country by Sept. 21, 2015. 

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