Foreign Tourists Visiting Korea Poised to Hit the 10 Million Mark
SEOUL, KOREA — Korea’s tourism industry has been sailing before the wind. Yeon-soo Chung, Executive Director of the Overseas Marketing Department of Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), predicted, “The number of foreign tourists who will visit Korea is projected to surge 22.8% year-on-year in the first half of 2012, breaking the 5 million mark for the first time. By the end of this year, the number will near 11 million.”
Executive Director Chung, said, “Our marketing strategy has focused on turning foreigners’ growing interest in Korean culture into actual visits by leveraging the K-pop-driven Korean wave (Hallyu), which is sweeping through Asia and the EU. The KTO launched a campaign called “Touch Korea Tour” on Buzz Korea (www.ibuzzkorea.com/eng), a website dedicated to Korean tourism marketing.
The KTO held a contest for its “Touch Korea Tour” and the winners of the contest were given a chance to spend several days in Korea with groups which they idolize.. This campaign drew participation from nearly one million foreigners. In addition, the KTO is working to disseminate contents on Korean tourism globally via global social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube.
Shopping-minded Tourists from China Are Emerging as VIPs.
According to the WTO (World Tourism Organization)’s Tourism 2020 Vision, though overseas trips have to date consisted of mainly of rich Chinese citizen, China’s heightened interest in tourism will grow at the fastest rate in the world. Last year, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Korea surpassed the 2 million thresholds for the first time.
The KTO has crafted a special strategy to attract one million Chinese tourists this summer as Chinese tourists have proven to be heavy spenders. According to government statistics, per-capita spending of Chinese tourists to Korea reached USD 1,949, far higher than their Japanese (USD 1,075) and US counterparts (USD 1,408). Statistically speaking, Chinese tourists were found to have spent over three time more than Japanese tourists at globally-renowned department stores.
Lavish spenders from China significantly help Korean retailers enjoy a sales bonanza. Thus, retailers like Shinsegae Department Store and the Shilla Duty Free are busy currying favor with Chinese tourists: they accept China UnionPay (CUP), the nation's sole bank card processor, and allow Chinese tourists pay in yuan to unburden them of the inconvenience of converting yuan to US dollars.
Chung mentioned, “The KTO is striving to divert China’s growing demand for shopping-oriented overseas trips, backed by the strong yuan, to Korea. Above all, bearing in mind that the influence of social networking services (SNS) is growing in China and about 70 % of the total foreign students in Korea are Chinese, we launched a SNS reporters group staffed by Chinese students studying in Korean in a bid to effectively deliver tourism promotional messages to prospective Chines tourists.” The 50-strong SNS reporters group is mainly working on Sina Weibo (China's answer to Facebook). Ringing in the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Korea-China diplomatic ties, a slew of events and marketing activities took place. These activities and events include a celebratory reception for the Korea-China Year of Friendship 2012, FIT (Foreign Independent Traveler) festivals to attract Chinese FITs and “talk” concerts aimed to heighten Chinese students’ interest in Korea.
Korea’s Multi-faceted Appeal to Japanese Tourists of Different Age Groups
Korea has seen tourists from Japan, Korea’s largest source of foreign tourists, grow continuously after dwindling temporarily following the Japanese earthquake in March, 2011. Chung said, “Our marketing activities, which exploited favorable conditions like the Korean wave and the strong yen to swiftly take up the slack created by the Japanese earthquake, resulted in steady growth in the number of Japanese tourists to Korea.”
As for Japanese tourists, the KTO is mounting a marketing strategy that focuses on different preferences for a variety of age groups. Female tourists in their 30-40s are shopping-minded while young tourists in their 10-20s are lovers of K-pop stars. Tour packages centered on Korea’s four major attractions (the Korean wave, beauty, food and shopping) are being developed and marketed via SNS such as Facebook. Specialized tour packages, such as Expo 2012 Yeosu, Korean skura tours and Jeollabuk-do pansori tours, have been developed to target the "dankai" generation (Japanese baby boomers born in 1946-1949) and elderly Japanese tourists. As a result, more Japanese tourists were headed to Korea’s provinces, thereby increasing the total number of Japanese tourists to Korea.
Growth in Value–added Tourism Products like MICE and Medical Tourism
Celebrating the 2012 Korea Convention Year, the KTO is keen on the development of the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) industry and medical tourism so as to achieve quantitative and qualitative growth within the Korean tourism industry. “Medical tourism that currently basks in the limelight attracted 120,000 foreign tourists in 2011 and is estimated to lure in over 150,000 this year. Convergence-themed medical tourism products that link medical tourism to cruise tours and incentive trips are on the rise,” said Executive Director Chung.
Last year, the KTO’s untiring efforts were rewarded by more than 10,000 employees of China’s Baojian Group undergoing staff incentive trips to Jeju Island. The Baojian employees spent KRW 41 billion, taking the total combined expenditure including shopping to a whopping KRW 90 billion.
In the pipeline are a flurry of international meetings and staff incentive trips: the 2020 International Congress of the International Radiation Protection Association (IRPA) (2,000 attendees are expected), 1,000 employees from Amway Thailand in the latter half of 2012, and 2,000 employees from AD-AM (a medical company in Shenyang, China) in the second half of 2012. In the first half of 2012 alone, 78,285 foreigners took staff incentive trips to Korea. Recently, Amway China has announced its plan to reward its 15,000 employees with incentive trips to Korea in 2014.