FKI pleas for tourism deregulation after MERS

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FKI pleas for tourism deregulation after MERS

In response to the sharp fall in tourism as a result of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak, the country’s largest business lobbying group presented a set of suggestions on Sunday aimed at lifting regulations on development of properties.

The Federation of Korean Industries suggested that the government remove restrictions banning hotel construction near school zones.

Under current laws, hotels are not allowed to be built within 200 meters (655 feet) of a school on the grounds that students could be led astray.

The association said the outbreak of the potentially fatal virus has caused 180 billion won ($160 million) in losses to the tourism industry, quoting the Korea Tourism Organization.

A bill to ease the hotel regulations has been stuck at the National Assembly for more than 1,000 days.

“We lack some 12,800 hotel rooms to serve the rapidly increasing number of Chinese tourists,” the federation said in a statement, “But we still treat hotels as shady establishments.”

Korean Air is waiting for approval to build a hotel in the heart of Seoul, but three schools are near the lot.

The flight carrier purchased 36,642 square meters (nine acres) of land in Songhyeon-dong, Jongno District, central Seoul, for 290 billion won in 2008. The plan to build a cultural complex, which includes a luxury hotel, has been challenged by the regulation.

The FKI also noted that the tax refund process is too complicated for foreign tourists.

“To get tax refunds, a tourist has to get a tax free receipt from each store and then go to the airport’s service desk,” it said.

The group said in Japan a traveler can get refunds directly from shops.

It also suggested that a concert hall be built at Seoul Plaza near City Hall in central Seoul so tourists can enjoy K-pop music as they visit the area.

The FKI also called on the government to simplify the visa system for people from China and Southeast Asia.

“The tourism industry is an important business that can create jobs at twice the pace of the manufacturing industry,” said Yoo Hwan-ik, a director at the federation.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [park.eunjee@joongang.co.kr]

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