Korea is one of the few countries blessed with its distinctive four seasons -- especially summer and winter – that allows people to engage in various leisure sports and seasonal festivals throughout the year. Thus, many travelers visit Korea to experience this gift from nature that is not present in their homeland. In the spring, Korea has various destinations where travelers can enjoy the white cherry blossom petals, pink azalea and yellow forsythias that cover the villages and mountains. Along with metropolitan areas that boast cherry blossom flowers in the spring -- such as Yunjungno in Seoul, Yeouido and Mount Namsan -- Gochang in North Jeolla Province, Jinhae in South Jeolla Province and Bosung in South Jeolla Province are also some of the best sites to visit during April and May.
Gochang offers beautiful walking paths filled with barley and camellias. Historical ruins such as the Seonunsa Temple and Gochange Eupseong Fortress are must-see sites for travelers visiting Gochang. Jinhae is also renowned for its beautiful cherry tree roads in spring. The most popular spots there when the flowers are in full bloom are the Naval Base, Anmin Road and Jehwangsan Park. Last year, more than 2 million visitors flocked to see the cherry blossom trees during the annual Jinhae Gunhangje cherry blossom festival.
Boseong, the largest tea-producing site in Korea, is also a magnificent place to visit during the spring, and it has also been a favorite filming location of Korean movies, commercials and TV dramas. The Bosung Green Tea festival is also a popular festival in spring, where visitors can attend events, view tea exhibitions, and experience handson programs such as tea making, green tea kimchi making, and picking tea leaves. The summer in Korea is hot and humid, a perfect clime to engage in water activities at the beach. There are many beautiful beaches where visitors can also enjoy the nightlife of Korea in these locations as well. Daecheon Beach on the west coast in South Chungcheong province is very popular, especially with its Boryeong Mud Festival, one of the most popular Korean festivals where travelers can experience mud wrestling, mud slides and mud baths. On the south coast, Haeundae Beach in Busan is great for swimming due to its shallow waters, and various festivals such as the Haeundae Sand Festival also take place there.
In autumn, the crimson foliage and hiking paths make Mount Seoraksan and Mount Odae two of the best locations to enjoy the colorful scenery in Korea. In the winter, skiing tourism is well known among travelers, due to popular images portrayed in Korean TV dramas. Resorts in Gangwon Provice are also popular, including Yongpyong Resort, Daemyung Vivaldi Park, and Phoenix Park Ski Resort. Traditional spas, including Onyang Hot Spring in South Chungcheong Province, Suanbo Hot Spring in North Chungcheong Province, and Baegam Hot Spring in North Gyeongsang Province, are sites which travelers visit to rest their body and mind in the winter.
With travelers nowadays flocking to enjoy the uniqueness and beauty of Korea, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) announced its goal of attracting 10 million foreign visitors this year. To realize this goal, Charm Lee, President of KTO, has been aggressively marketing Korea to various countries by branching out KTO’s offices worldwide, encouraging both the domestic and foreign tourism development of Korea while advancing Korea’s tourism infrastructure. Along with the efforts of the KTO, the Korean government also announced its plan in March to attract 12 million visitors by the year 2014 by promoting the tourism and leisure industry, aiming to create 40,000 new jobs by boosting domestic demand of tourism and raising the per capita of annual domestic travel days in a year to 14 days. Lee thinks the plan of attracting 10 million foreign visitors can be realized. Consider that in 2005, more than 6 million travelers visited Korea, and the number exceeded 8.8 million in 2010, which was a 12.5 percent increase from the previous year. After the Japan earthquake, many trips were canceled, but Lee said that the incident which dampened tourism growth here “will wear off, people will be less worried about it, and towards the end of the year there will be strong growth.”
According to recent data released by the Bank of Korea, Lee’s prediction turned out to be correct. Korea’s income from tourism showed an increase in April. In that month, the income from tourism rose 65 percent from the previous year to US$770.1 million. In the previous month of March, the income had risen to US$926.4 million, a 28.3 percent increase from the previous year. The number of travelers also increased 3.3 percent from April of the prior year, reaching 754,458, and 1.5 percent from March of last year, reaching 781,286. it seems that many tourists originally planning to visit Japan have been visiting Korea instead following the nuclear incident.
One of the major issues the Korean tourism industry faces, even with the number of increasing foreign travelers, is the lack of tourism infrastructure. To lure more tourists and reach the goal of 10 million, this problem needs to be solved. Lee said the KTO is working on this issue as well, but to tackle this problem, domestic tourism and tourism culture needs to be developed first. Lee said, “In most of the countries that are comparable to Korea, such as the OECD countries and more industrialized countries, 80 percent of the tourism infrastructure is used by domestic tourists.” He added that since Koreans generally don’t tend to spend a night in a hotel, instead planning to take one-day trips, and since they don’t travel as often as others in different nations do, it is more challenging to foster development of tourism infrastructure here.
To encourage more Koreans to travel domestically, KTO initiated the “Korea Gusuk Gusuk (Nooks and Crannies of Korea)” campaign and launched a smart phone application called “Gusuk Gusuk Daehanminguk” in Korean, or “Visit Korea” in English. The KTO is also working with the press to boost domestic tourism by publishing articles and making television programs that recommend tourism spots to Koreans. Lee said the organization will try to enforce these efforts. “Because of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak that began last year and was going on until April, a lot of local festivals were canceled and many local communities recommended not visiting those sites,” Lee said. He repeatedly stated that it was a big loss for the tourism industry. “The local restaurants, shops, taxi drivers, and guides had no income for many months. We need to help them regain the loss of their income, so we are preparing campaigns to encourage people to travel domestically.”
Another promising market in Korea’s tourism industry is the medical tourism sector. Due to Korea’s advanced IT and biotechnology, combined with state-of-theart medical services, foreign patients that choose to have medical treatment in Korea increased to 80,000 in 2010 from 60,000 a year earlier. As a response to the expanding global market of medical tourism, KTO conducts promotional events overseas, giving presentations to the local press regarding Korean medical services provided by Korean doctors; these presentations are given to people within the medical industry and travel agents. The Ubiquitous Health Center (U Health Center) in Vladivostok is one of these projects. The health center is adjacent to KTO’s branch office, where people can come and have video conferences with Korean hospitals and consult with Korean doctors.
Lee stated, “In Vladivostok, we have Russian doctors also who do the translation and basic medical testing. So a very profound consultation can take place. This way the patient can gain confidence with the doctors.” He continues to assert that KTO is collaborating with Korea’s Yonsei Severance Hospital and some plastic surgery clinics. “This project is very successful and a lot of people are on the waiting list to get a consultation.”
For those who say Korea is lacking in tourism resources and competitiveness, Lee said Korea is a country that is filled with rich tourism, so the key to increased competitiveness would be how Korea utilizes these resources and spreads the word about them.
“Not only European or American tourists but also Asian tourists, including Japanese tourists, come here and say they like the passion, energy and enthusiasm they can find here,” said Lee. “So we need to emphasize these points in a way that shows how Korea has something over other counties that they can’t find anywhere else.”
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