Tourism police wearing outfits designed by Kim Seo-ryong, who also designed the outfit Korean rapper Psy wore while performing at the Rockefeller Center in New York last year, give thumbs up. / Courtesy of Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
By Yun Suh-young
A new police unit dubbed the "tourism police" will patrol the streets at major leisure areas in Seoul starting Wednesday, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said Monday.
Aside of maintaining law and order, the 101 police officers will be required to help reduce inconveniences frequently experienced by travelers, such as merchants overcharging them or refusing to refund faulty products.
Officers capable of speaking English, Chinese and Japanese will be assigned to seven tourism police centers set up at the city's seven major leisure destinations — Myeong-dong, Itaewon, Dongdaemun, Insa-dong, Hongdae, Cheonggyecheon Stream and Seoul City Hall. Foreigners can also call 1330 for tourism information provided by police.
"We have discussed with the National Police Agency about adopting the tourism police since March. We have been aware of the problems tourists faced when they visited the city. Taxi services requesting ridiculous fees at night are an example. There was no one to ask for help before but now they can ask help to the tourism police," said Shin Yong-eon, director general of the tourism bureau at the culture ministry.
"There's a big difference of having a public authority be present at the tourist spots. We expect the effect of having the police there to be greater than their symbolic value."
Currently 27 countries around the world, including Egypt, Mexico and Peru, are operating police units specialized in attending to tourists, the ministry said. The ministry also expects the tourism police to be a unique cultural icon promoting tourism.
"We expect the tourism police wearing unique outfits to act as tourist icons much like the soldiers doing the guards ceremonies at palaces or the guards of honor," said Shin.
The tourism police which are only available in Seoul at the moment will be expanded to other regions in the coming years.
"At the moment we don't have enough personnel to expand the service to other regions but we are planning on hiring more officers. By early next year, we are planning on launching tourism police in Jeju Island. We will also expand the service to cities such as Busan and Incheon," said Ryou Hyun-cheol, director of foreign affairs planning division at the National Police Agency.