Tourism in South Korea is a major industry with 8.87 million foreign tourists visiting the country, making it one of the favored destinations.
Although most non-Korean tourists come from Japan, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, there is a growing awareness of the republic as a tourist haven in the Gulf states. The Korean government too is making efforts to facilitate tourists from the region.
Seoul is the principal destination for visitors; popular tourist spots outside Seoul include Seorak-san national park, the historic city of Gyeongju and semi-tropical Jeju Island.
Through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and its constituent Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), the government regulates tourism within South Korea. The Korean government has opened an office in Dubai to cover the region.
Excellent infrastructure and easy visa rules have spurred the inbound traffic to Korea. Saudis do not require visa to visit Korea and the Korean government’s aggressive campaign to increase the tourist flow from Saudi Arabia and the region is bearing fruit.
Excerpts of an interview with a tourism official in the Gulf:
Do you have a target figure for attracting Saudis?
Since the numbers are small, we are still looking at GCC arrivals. However, Saudi Arabia is leading the GCC arrivals with robust growth. In 2010, GCC arrivals were approximately 7,000-plus, and we eye a target of 10,000 by 2012.
How many Saudis visited Korea for tourism in 2010?
The arrivals were as follows: In 2008 — 2,664; in 2009 — 3,040; in 2010 — 3,875; 2011 until May — figures went up by 53 percent compared to the previous year.
If there is an increase, what reasons do you attribute it to?
Although the KTO has a presence in Dubai since 2004, our aggressive campaign started in 2007 with following activities.
Print media campaign in all major Arabic newspapers like Alyoum, Al Riyadh and Okaz targeting Saudis regionwise starting from April/May until Jun /July. Online campaign on elakorea.com and yahoo maktoob.com
Banner advertising in shopping malls across Saudi Arabia prior to summer months.
MBC FM radio campaign, celebrity TV shows like hosting chef Osamma in Korea along with a Korean chef, travel and cookery show of Dania on Abu Dhabi TV, Wonho Chung on Al Aan TV.
Above all, there has been a great influence of Korean pop music and dramas on the young female population of Saudi Arabia. And this has been one of the key factors in driving tourist traffic to Korea. (For example — Super Juniors, one of the leading boy band in Korea and across Asia acknowledged on their TV show that their biggest fan base in the Middle East region is Saudi Arabia. In fact, they thanked their Saudi fans by dressing up in traditional Arab dresses during one of their concerts.)
What influences Saudis to visit Korea as tourists according to your experience?
The word-of-mouth marketing is getting stronger in Saudi Arabia as we are monitoring the travel flow. Saudis do not require visa to travel to Korea and above all the country is safe, clean and secure for Arab tourists.
Other key selling factors for Arab tourists are: 24 hour shopping markets, affordable theme parks open 7 days a week and a mix of traditions and technology.
Do you think you have a strong competition from other destinations in attracting Saudi tourists?
Korea has its own identity with a 5,000-year-old history blended with modernity and therefore, no competition at this stage. However, hotel rates in Seoul remain a concern for the middle class Saudi population.
Do you have any plans to open a tourism office in Riyadh or Jeddah?
Not at the moment as Dubai office covers the GCC markets and beyond.