Visitors to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul (Photo: AFP/VNA)

Seoul (VNA) – The Republic of Korea (RoK)’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said on March 22 that the country will start issuing electronic visas to Southeast Asian tourists from May, instead of from the later half of this year as initially planned.

The move is part of efforts to help the local tourism industry buffer China’s ban on group trip sales to the RoK.

The ministry said it will also permit a five-day no-visa entry for Jeju-bound Southeast Asian tourist groups who transfer at the Incheon or Gimhae airports so as to provide them a chance to visit Seoul or other cities in the country.

It added efforts are underway to encourage local airlines to expand routes bound for Southeast Asia and Japan, while paving the way for them to boost partnerships with their counterparts in the Philippines, Taiwan (China) and Mongolia.

The local tourism industry has been hit by a string of trade restrictions by Beijing that came in as an apparent protest against Seoul's stationing of a US anti-missile defence system, or the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), on its soil.

Since March 15, all group tour sales to the RoK have been banned, with Chinese cruises no longer making stopovers at local ports. The tourism industry is on the brink of losing more than half of its Chinese visitors, who make up the bulk of foreigners' spending here.-VNA