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Tourism is becoming Korea’s main way to make money. The number of tourists who visited Korea reached five million in 2000, and it is expected that the figure will be doubled by the end of this year.
According to Korea National Tourist Organization, the number of tourists will reach about ten million by November.
The increased number of tourists to Korea is surprising because Korea is thought to have poor tourism infrastructure compared to for example the U.S., France, China, Italy, or Turkey. Korea is currently on the 32nd place in the tourism competitiveness ranking issued by the world economy forum.
The main reason people are visiting Korea recently is the “Korean wave,” which refers to the surge in popularity of Korean culture such as Korean music, movies, and food in Asia and other parts of the world. The term was created in 1999 by journalists in Beijing surprised at the fast growing popularity of Korean entertainment and culture in China. Korean pop music, K-pop, is playing a main role in the Korean wave, attracting many fans worldwide. The Korean wave has contributed to Korean economy, adding revenue and creating jobs. According to Korea Matters for America, the Korean wave brought approximately 3.8 billion dollars of revenue to the South Korean economy based on international activity in 2011.
It is reported that 22.7 percent of tourists visit Korea to experience Korean culture or to see K-pop stars.
Korea can now almost compete with countries which are famous for their tourism. For example Australia attracts about six million tourists every year on average.
As the number of tourists who visit Korea to see Korean celebrity increases, Gangnam-gu, a southern area of Seoul, is planning to build “Korean stars’ street.” About 300 entertainment companies are placed around this area. Tourists from China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other South East Asian countries visit this area to wait and see Korean celebrities.
Twenty one-year-old Yuki Yosida from Japan said, “I’m here to see Girl’s Generation. But, I’m not sure if I can see them today or not. Usually, fans visiting this area like me are just waiting in front of an entertainment company.”
She added, “I’m okay with just sitting here and waiting for Korean stars to pass by. But, sometimes I wish there were other places that people like me can visit or enjoy around here.”
The Korea wave affects the increased popularity of medical tourism. According to the Korea Tourist Service, many Asian people who watch Korean shows or dramas visit Korea for getting plastic surgery or skin therapy, because they tend to think Korean celebrities are handsome or pretty, and want to look like them.
According to the statistics by Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare, 122,297 people visited Korea for medical purpose in 2011, and that number marked a 49.5% increase compared to previous year. The profit from a fee for consultation was about 180 billion dollars. The proportion for plastic surgery was 12.2%, taking second place out of all medical tourism items.
However, even though the number of tourists visiting Korea is increasing, the fact that most tourists are from China and Japan, and that they mostly stay in Seoul, remains as an accommodation issue Korea should work on solving in the future.
As of July, 81.7% of tourists were Asian. Chinese travellers counted for 32%, while 29.7% were from Japan, showing that most visitors were concentrated on Asian people. People from the Americas make up only 7.6%, and people from Europe accounted for 6.1%, according to the report by Korea Tourist Service. The report shows that nine out of ten tourists who visited Korea last year stayed in Seoul.