South Korea will issue VIP cards to rich Chinese tourists to lure more big-spending mainlanders to the country, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper has reported.
The South Korean embassy in China told the newspaper last week that about 20 million mainland Chinese residents could qualify for the card, which would be issued in March at the earliest.
Cardholders will receive five-year multiple-entry visas, use of exclusive automated immigration counters, personal shopper services and discounts at department stores and tax-free shops, and translation services at tourist attractions.
To be eligible, applicants must have bought more than US$30,000 of goods in Korea over the past five years, deposited 50 million won into a Korean bank or be a platinum card holder, high-ranking central government official or celebrity.
Applicants will be screened by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Korea Tourism Organisation and banks.
Last year, China became South Korea’s largest tourism market, overtaking Japan for the first time. One in three foreign tourists visiting South Korea, or 3.92 million, were Chinese. In 2012, mainland Chinese tourists spent an average 2.29 million won per person, compared with the overall average of 1.62 million won.
The Chinese word for tourist, youke, has even entered the Korean language, meaning a rich Chinese visitor.
Some have criticised the new policy for discriminating on the basis of wealth and status.