By Kim Yoo-chul
South Korea aims to attract 8.5 million overseas visitors in 2010, an increase from the 7.8 million that came last year. Such a jump would obviously represent a growth opportunity for the local tourism sector.
Government officials say the nation's recent series of successful bids to host international conferences including the G-20 summit meeting in Seoul in November is also lifting the demand for high quality tailored travel services, giving an upswing in momentum to a local travel agency ― Cosmojin Travel Service.
In addition to such favorable market situations, Cosmojin is feeling positive about its prospects for further external growth for the whole of this year as more visits by foreign executives on business trips are helping it take the "right track" in terms of revenue growth.
The agency, established in 2001, is mainly offering private travel services for foreign executives, VIPs, big buyers and celebrities who come to the nation on business.
It is also a coordinator of tours to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a vestige of the Cold War.
"What would make their short visits even more enjoyable would be a chance to cap off a day of sightseeing with an evening of personalized activities. With our record in management, Cosmojin has been receiving more such orders," Jinny Jung, a president of the travel service, said in an interview with The Korea Times, last week.
Dr. Robert M. Gould, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, French actress Juliette Binoche and renowned Italian contemporary artist Vanessa Beecroft are some of the customers of Cosmojin's premium tour services.
"It's rare to find a local travel agency that focuses on high premium services due to the heavy costs and lack of experience. More visits from high-profile personnel related to meetings, tours, conventions and exhibitions and new buyers are helping us expand our bottom-line," said Jung.
The company is flexible when it comes to schedule changes. Customers can even decide the tourist spots they want to visit.
Personal eating habits are also a top consideration. The agency has its own English-speaking drivers and tour guides
Cosmojin is targeting to clinch 3 billion won in sales in 2010. Although Jung declined to give further financial terms, she added the agency will continue a double-digit growth pace in terms of sales over the next few years.
Jung said the agency has already secured some the nation's top 10 conglomerates including Samsung, Hyundai and LG as its clients.
"The VIP-level services have emerged as a 'blue ocean.' But few travel agencies are yielding visible results," she said.
Citing an increased number of corporate buyers, the president expects resistance to high prices for using its distinctive services will lessen.
Jung said the travel agency is continually updating its homepage with the latest information on local attractions so visitors can have prior knowledge before coming to South Korea.
"Software-focused content is so important in the tourism industry. We will put more such content in our premium services."
When asked by about the government’s efforts to boost the tourism industry over the past few years, Jung said South Korea has seen an overall constructive development in tourism sector.
"The government should train more tourism experts with a bigger budget. Still, a lot of domestic travel agencies are facing financial difficulties. Policymakers could do more to maintain the sector's health."