An upscale nightclub in Itaewon, Seoul, has stopped accepting foreign customers over the past two weeks in fears of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a virus that has taken lives of 33 people in South Korea, the owner of the club said Wednesday.
Kim Jong-hyun, owner of Lounge & Club Move contacted The Korea Observer and requested that we remove an article that we published a day earlier as he believes it implies the club has a racist policy in place.
“We absolutely don’t accept foreigners because of MERS,” said Kim. “Above all, Korean people don’t want them. This is Korea, isn’t it?”
When asked whether he is aware that South Korea has the largest number of MERS cases in the world after Saudi Arabia, he answered that the figures and facts are not important as the majority of his Korean customers believe foreigners are more likely to have been infected with the deadly virus.
“I understand what you are trying to say. But Koreans do not think that way,” he said. “Close friends and regular customers tell me that they are scared of coming to Itaewon because of foreigners,” he said.
To date, none of the MERS related deaths in Korea have been foreigners and there has been no reports of foreigners contracting the virus.
Kim said he had to take the drastic measure because the number of customers dwindled following the outbreak of MERS.
“The number of customers has dropped by 50 percent. We are now in a very desperate situation,” Kim said.
He argued that the club’s manager Lee Su-bin failed to mention MERS when he conducted an interview with The Korea Observer earlier this week for the article, “Club in Itaewon denies entry to foreigners, especially those from Middle East.”
John Power, who was denied entry to Lounge & Move Club last Saturday, said MERS was not mentioned when the bouncer rejected his entry. The Irish journalist said that the only explanation he was offered was that foreigners are not allowed.
John denied the offer to rebut the club owner’s explanation.
“The ignorance speaks for itself,” he said.
Club Move’s general manager Lee Su-bin told The Korea Observer Tuesday that the club, located in the tourist district of Itaewon, has denied entry of foreigners since late last year because some irresponsible foreigners had caused serious damage to the club and sexually harassed patrons.
Kim also thinks that foreigners were doing rather more harm than good to his establishment.
“The biggest reason that we deny service to foreigners is MERS but you cannot rule out the fact that they are troublesome,” he said.
“Most of the time when a customer loses a cellphone, the CCTV reveals that the thieves are Middle Eastern people or foreigners.”
Kim agreed with his manager Lee’s statement that the club has been hesitant to have foreign customers because it is hard to make them liable when they cause property damages, sexually harass customers or start a brawl.
He also stressed that foreign customers frequently start a fight with U.S. servicemen.
“U.S. servicemen don’t behave badly. The problem is other foreign customers who constantly provoke them into a fight,” Kim said.
“It is better not to have them because we lose too much for trying to make a small amount of money from them.”
Kim said he will keep the no “foreigner policy” until fears over MERS subside but some foreigners, including his DJs, will be allowed to enter.
“If anyone catches MERS at our club, we have to close the club. It will be a huge loss to us if we have to shut it down because of accepting a few [foreigners],” he said.
“However, our DJs are foreigners and we cannot stop them and their friends. We will continue to allow some foreigners who our staff have made acquaintances.“
The club received numerous messages via their Facebook page with a couple posting comments on the wall.
“Why do you advertise foreign women if foreigners are forbidden to enter your club?!! That is so hypocritical of you!” said one commenter. “RACIST~!! wonder how u sleep at night! truly disgusting,” said another.
Lounge & Move Club use images of bikini clad Western women in a poster advertising the club without those models consent or knowledge.
Several readers have pointed out the hypocrisy of advertising using a race that they then deny entry to.
In August last year, JR Pub in Itaewon received criticism for denying Africans over fears of Ebola. The bar put a pair of signs that read “We apologize But, Due to Ebola Virus we are not accepting Africans at the moment.”
The bar owner immediately removed the signs and made an apology over the discriminatory policy, saying it was wrong for him to discriminate people based on race.