As South Korea continues to assess the impact of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) on its travel industry, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) has implemented a months-long initiative aimed at putting the country's visitor numbers back on track.

A total of 186 MERS cases, 23 of them fatal, were reported in South Korea from May 20 (the first reported case) through July 4 (the latest reported case as of press time).

According to the KTO's New York office, the outbreak prompted flight cancellations from travelers around the globe: over 137,000 as of July 7. And according to ForwardKeys, which analyzes flight data, net bookings from Northeast Asia (which includes major feeder markets such as China, Taiwan and Japan) were down 111.5% from May 20 to June 28 compared with the same period last year.

South Korea received a total of more than 14.2 million visitors last year, of which the three largest markets were China (6.1 million), Japan (2.1 million) and the U.S. (just over 740,000).

100-day plan

According to a representative of the KTO's New York office, the goal of the organization's 100-day tourism recovery plan is to reach a total of 5 million visitors for July through October; by comparison, last year's total for the same period was nearly 5.4 million. The effort coincides with major holiday periods in its top two markets: Japan's three-day Obon Festival and Silver Week in August and September, respectively, and China's Golden Week in early October.

The effort will include invitations to media and travel agency executives from China, Japan and Southeast Asia "to show that Korea is still safe to travel," according to the KTO.

The KTO will also work with airlines throughout Asia in marketing efforts that will include air ticket giveaways, complimentary baggage check-ins, tour discounts and coupons for shopping at South Korean malls.

In partnership with Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, the KTO will target the U.S. travel trade with 40 fam trips through October that will travel throughout the country.

For more on the KTO's efforts, visit http://english.visitkorea.or.kr.

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