Korea is promoting temple stays as part of its wellness tourism opportunities. // © 2016 Kim Eun-Jung
Feature image (above): Attendees at the recent International Forum on Wellness Tourism in Seoul, including the author (bottom row, in pink) // © 2016 Vincent_St_Thomas
At the first International Forum on Wellness Tourism, held in Seoul and hosted by the country’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST), South Korea announced plans to attract health-conscious tourists across the world by developing a wellness tourism brand.
The event was attended by more than 200 professionals, including representatives of the National Assembly, MCST, regional and local governments, universities and research centers and spas and healing centers, as well as travel agents and medical tourism facilitators.
The forum was also designed to increase awareness about the importance of wellness tourism to the South Korean economy.
“Wellness tourism is somewhat new to us, and the concept is not yet defined in our country,” said In Sook Lee, deputy director medical tourism center for the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO).
South Korea may be positioned to excel at wellness tourism since it currently attracts many international travelers for medical tourism and beauty treatments. While most of these tourists come from China and Japan, South Korean officials view wellness as an opportunity to expand their health tourism strategy to attract more tourists overall, especially from wealthy Gulf Coast countries.
Focusing on uniquely Korean experiences — including temple stays, traditional medicine and food and healing experiences in nature, as well as spa and beauty treatments — the government wants to develop programs with local communities.
“Many foreigners are interested in Korean women’s skin care and fitness regimens,” said Jim Ki-Nam, a medical tourism consultant and professor at Yonsei University. “But Korean companies need to look beyond selling products and focus on experiences to expand the market.”
According to representatives from the KTO and MCST, the event provided an opportunity for stakeholder consensus-building as well as a chance to showcase thought leadership from Korea, Thailand, Germany and the U.S. Media attention was significant in both Korean and English print and television outlets.
While Korea is in its infancy in developing a wellness destination brand, the event was a step in the right direction.