Over 7 Mil. Foreign Tourists Visit Korea
By Do Je-hae
A record high of over 7 million foreign tourists, mostly Chinese and Japanese visitors, travelled to Korea this year, overturning industry predictions that the global economic downturn and flu scare would significantly deter people from coming to Korea.
It is the first time the number of foreign tourists exceeded the 7-million mark, up 14 percent from the 6.14 million last year, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) said Monday.
Japanese tourists accounted for 39.3 percent, or 2.75 million, of the total number, followed by Chinese (1.22 million) and Americans (550,000).
The record number of foreign visitors is particularly significant as it was achieved despite unfavorable conditions, officials said. The UN World Tourism Organization estimated a 6-percent drop in the number of tourists globally.
"The government has been vigorously pursuing measures to advance the tourism industry, such as tax benefits for related companies and visa waivers for Chinese tourists," Na Sang-hoon, the KTO director of marketing strategy said. "Our overseas marketing projects have also made contributions toward bringing in more foreign visitors."
In 1994 around 3.5 million foreign tourists traveled to Korea; and it was only in 2005 that the number topped the 6-million mark for the first time. The KTO estimated that around 7.8 million tourists will have visited by the end of this year, surpassing its initial target of 7.5 million set in January. "We will continue to develop projects in cooperation with local governments to promote regional destinations and relevant infrastructure," Na added.
To attract 10 million foreign tourists annually by 2012, Korea recently launched the "2010-2012 Visit Korea Year" campaign. The Visit Korea Committee will host a ceremony in Shanghai to launch the Chinese campaign. KTO President Lee Charm, vice-chairman of the Committee, will introduce cultural and food festivals to take place during the campaign. The event is the latest in a series of launch ceremonies the committee has organized here and internationally. It held a large-scale promotional event in Tokyo last month.
As Chinese visitors are a major component of foreign visitors to Korea, they are crucial for the success of the campaign. "Cross visits between the two countries have been consistently on the rise and the trend is expected to continue, particularly with the recently-publicized measures to increase Chinese tourists," Sonia Hong, secretary-general of the committee said.
During a meeting overseen by President Lee Myung-bak on Nov. 13, the government announced the pursuit of a visa waiver program with China for tourists staying for up to 30 days.
The Visit Korea campaign is aimed at increasing the nation's tourism revenue to $10 billion and having Korea join the list of top-20 countries in surveys of tourism competitiveness.
Korea will promote major international events to take place here in the next three years, such as the 2011 Daegu World Championship in Athletics and the 2012 Yeosu Expo, as some of the compelling reasons to visit Korea. The committee will also focus on attracting visitors to provincial regions.
Despite the rise in the number of foreign tourists, there are still lingering issues that need to be dealt with. Foreigners have cited the general lack of English proficiency and high costs as some of the most glaring hindrances in travel around Korea.
"The salespeople were unfriendly and absolutely devoid of English skills to help foreign shoppers like myself," a Taiwanese tourist said, after attempting to buy clothes recently at the Lotte Department Store in Myeongdong, central Seoul. "And everything was too expensive."