Warming North-South ties, Pyeongchang Games raise hopes for Korea tourism

KTO wants to ride the Pyeonchang 2018 hype to promote the Gangwon region to tourists; Seoraksan national park pictured

The easing tension between North and South Korea is expected to bolster tourism numbers into both nations, with Vietnam, Canada and Japan leading the tourism revival, alongside the Chinese market which last year took a hit amid souring diplomatic relations.

Speaking to TTG Asia at the Korean Tourism Organisation’s (KTO) MICE Roadshow last week, Yoon Seung Hwan, its director of Singapore office, said that the impression of North Korea as a safe destination is “getting better”.

KTO wants to ride the Pyeonchang 2018 hype to promote the Gangwon region to tourists; Seoraksan national park pictured

He added that riding on the popularity of the recent Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, KTO is also promoting the Gangwon region as an outdoor destination.

“Singaporeans like to ski in (South) Korea, and we’ve had a lot more facilities and winter sports activities since the Pyeongchang Olympic Games, so we can introduce complementary activities other than skiing and develop more unique experiences using these new facilities,” Yoon explained.

Indeed, ForwardKeys figures show that the Winter Olympics has boosted tourism in South Korea, which also saw a rebound from the Chinese market.

Last year when Beijing objected to the stationing of US Thaad missiles in South Korea, China’s government took action by discouraging group travel to the country; consequently, 84 per cent of Chinese arrivals are now independent travellers, compared to 35 per cent a year ago.

During the period of the Winter Olympics, arrivals were up 13.7 per cent, with Vietnam seeing an unprecedented 635.4 per cent increase, due to improved air connectivity, a visa waiver during the Olympics and the Vietnamese New Year.

The data further shows other big arrival increases came from China’s FIT segment, Hong Kong, the US and Canada.

The Olympics boost was sustained, as March and April registered double-digit growth. Bookings for May, June and July are 8.5 per cent further ahead than they were at the equivalent time last year.

Meanwhile, Ding Xianqin, owner of Heartlink Holidays, shared that despite political tensions and even before the Olympics, her clients have been “very interested” in South Korea, but are often concerned about the high cost.

This leaves her agency the responsibility of finding higher value experiences in the destination, she said.

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