The South Asia Travel and Tourism Exchange (SATTE), held at Pragati Maidan during January 29-31, saw representatives from tourism ministries of various countries around the world, including Malaysia, Thailand, Macau, Oman and others. In an interview with Byungsun Lee, Director, Korea Tourism Organisation, we tried to find out what Korea is doing to attract Indian travellers and how it’s working to develop itself as an emerging tourist destination.
What kind of traction does the Korean tourism industry get from India? And do you see it increasing?
Byungsun Lee: I’ve worked now for almost two years in India, and I found that there’s a big change in the awareness about Korea as a tourist destination here. In the past, only the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) travel agencies showed interest in Korea. But, these days, Korea is emerging as a leisure destination. Mainstream destinations like Thailand, Singapore and Dubai are already saturated. People now want new destinations and travel agents are also very seriously seeking unique destinations, so now Korea is one of them.
Second, Indian travel lovers face difficulties in getting visas. Indians are very willing to go to Europe. They have to input biometric information, and there are many other barriers. So, people want an alternative destination (and) Korea is their new destination and marketshare is increasing day by day.
What makes Korea stand out from other countries?
Byungsun Lee: Korea is a very lovely country with a lot of unique aspects. We can offer a variety of destinations. One of them, for example, is that Korea is a very safe country for women. I assure you that Japan and Korea might be most safe countries for women travellers. They can go out during wee hours – 1am, 3am – and they can go anywhere. Even at 3am, there’s a lot of crowd and a lot of light. All shops are open 24 hours, specially during wee hours. It’s very interesting. So, South Korea is a rare country where ladies can enjoy without any concerns.
There are many aspects that ladies will love. Cosmetics, number one. Millions of young Chinese women travellers visit Korea to beautify themselves, even for surgeries. Then there are spas, Korean ayurvedic services and shopping. I claim that Korea is the best country for shopping. All items are very cheap and of good quality. So, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese – all young women come to Korea and praise the culture.
Are you doing anything in particular to attract Indian tourists?
Byungsun Lee: We are developing women-only packages. We are dealing with Cox and Kings and Thomas Cook now. We have a really lovely island called Jeju Island, which is one of the most beautiful islands. It has everything – volcanoes, natural beauty, amusement parks, shopping, everything – and it is a visa-free destination. Not visa-on-arrival – it is just simply visa-free.
If this morning you decide you want to go somewhere for a trip – just book a ticket, go to Jeju Island and enjoy. So, we are promoting Jeju Island in combination with Seoul – they are a perfect match. Seoul is a big city with every attraction and Jeju Island is paradise for relaxation. So, Seoul plus Jeju Island is way better than Thailand’s attractions. Only problem is up until now Indian travellers know Thailand, Bangkok and Korea is visible and emerging only now.
How many Indian travellers go to Korea annually, and have the numbers gone up?
Byungsun Lee: Last year, more than 150,000 travellers visited Korea from India and the number of visitors has increased by almost 20 per cent year-on-year. This is a very significant increase. I believe this increase will continue and the 200,000-mark will be achievable very soon. In addition to that, Korea is well-connected but the conditions will improve soon. Last October, civil aviation talks between India and Korea reached agreement and now between the two countries, we have six direct flights a week – Korean Airway and Asian Air. But the number of direct flights will be increased to 19 times a week.
So, with better connectivity and Korea’s beauty and attractions – now is the moment for Korea as a top emerging country in India.
What do Indian tourists spend most on and what is their average spending?
Byungsun Lee: Shopping, definitely. And Korea is very good with clothes, good quality electronic products and cosmetics. Women especially love cosmetics. Indians are very big soenders in Korea, they spend around $1500. There’s so much to buy.