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Foreign tourist arrivals to Korea reach 10 million

South Korea's 10 millionth visitor Li Tingting (second from left) and his mother Ye Shufang (third from left) pose for a photo with Culture Minister Choe Kwang-shik (left) and CEO of The Korea Tourism Organisation Lee Charm at Incheon International Airport yesterday. It's the first time Korea has drawn 10 million visitors in a single year. Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald

Publication Date : 22-11-2012

 

Challenges and opportunities ahead for government plan to attract 20 million inbound travellers by 2020

South Korea welcomed the 10 millionth visitor of the year yesterday - a landmark figure for Korea's tourism industry as it aims to become a top travel destination.

According to the Korea Tourism Organisation, the total number of foreign visitors to the country is expected to reach 11.3 million by the end of the year, up about 15 per cent from the previous year.

The number of inbound travellers has grown an average of 15 per cent since 1978, higher than other major tourist destinations such as the US and China, which has shown an average of 2.9 per cent growth.

Foreign tourists surpassed 1 million in 1978 and started to surge after 1988 following the Summer Olympics in Seoul. The figure reached 3 million in 1991, 5 million in 2000, and 7 million in 2010.

The last three years saw the largest increase in the number of foreign visitors thanks to the rising number of Chinese and Japanese tourists and the hallyu boom. Tourism revenue has seen a 134 per cent increase since 2007.

Tourism experts say the increase in the number of Chinese and Japanese tourists contributed to the rise of foreign inbound tourists. Chinese tourists increased by 30 per cent in the past year, topping Japanese tourists as the largest tourist group by nation. The number of Japanese tourists has increased by 19.5 per cent over the same period.

Korean tourism industry hails surpassing the 10 million mark as a "significant achievement in the tourism industry" and has set another ambitious goal to receive 20 million inbound travellers by 2020.

The tourism industry expects the growing number of tourists will open up new opportunities for the tourism sector in terms of quantity and quality.

"The increase in foreign visitors has resulted in more hotels, guide service and charter transportation," said Park Jeong-ha, director of KTO’s marketing planning team. “And we need to upgrade the service quality so that more people can come to the country expecting great service and experience.”

Jiny Jung, CEO of Cosmo.Jin Tour, agreed there should be improvement in service quality.

"We need to make tourists visit again by offering a quality experience and service. Without them, it will take longer for us to reach 20 million tourists. And people won’t recommend others visit the country," said Jung.

The low service quality has often resulted in complaints from foreign tourists, mainly those from China and Southeast Asian countries. The heated competition among travel agencies produces cheap tour packages that use unqualified tour guides and make unnecessary trips to souvenir shops to earn commissions.

Another challenge is to make tourists revisit and travel to other parts of the country.

"More than 70 per cent of the tourists come to Seoul and the surrounding metropolitan area. We need to develop more travel programmes and encourage them to travel to other provinces," said Park.

According to a government figure, the percentage of tourists who return to Korea is about 40 per cent. In Japan, the return rate is 60 per cent.

In order to diversify travel experiences, the KTO has developed various travel routes and programmes including exploring traditional markets at night and promoting medical tourism.

The effort to promote medical tourism has begun to bear fruit as a total of 1,821 tourists from the Middle East came to Korea for medical treatments in 2011 and more are expected, according to Jin Soo-nam, executive director of medical tourism department at KTO.

"I think the Middle East is a big opportunity for Korea's tourism industry. It's important to focus on tourists coming from neighbouring countries, but in order to attract more visitors from other countries, we need to combine interesting activities such as medical service with winter sports and prepare luxury service for VIPs," said Jin.

Park noted that lacking natural resources, Korea should utilise its lifestyle and culture in order to create interesting travel programmes.

"The traditional market is a good example. It can further revitalise the local economy and introduce unique rural cultures of Korea to the world," said Park.

 

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