Touring Korea

Tour operators are planning for a stronger 2006

By: Arline Inge

Korea tour operators are busy toting up last minute hotel prices and airfares for the deluge of 2006 catalogs that will be flooding retailers’ mailboxes some time in December. Agents should find gold in these pages. Korea travel is expected to continue to be strong in 2006.

Dianora Ginn, promotion director for the Korea Tourist Organization (KTO) in Los Angeles, reports that U.S. visitors to Korea rose 21.2 percent in 2004. And based upon the latest available count January-August 2005 the totals for the entire year look good.

While many Koreans in the United States are drawn to the country in search of roots or for family visits, it was actually the mainstream American market that spiked last year, says Ginn. An already growing interest in Korea received a big boost from the Broadway show “Nanta,” where a high-energy percussion group from Seoul made news with a music and pantomime comedy about four zany chefs in a restaurant kitchen. Korean-language cable television has also been doing its part by stirring up interest in the “Korean Wave” (hallyu), the burgeoning Korean film and music scene and other facets of Korea’s new pop culture.

Most of the two-dozen Western-based wholesalers say they expect their packages to be similar to last year’s. Custom FIT tours, as usual, will outnumber groups. Packages again will concentrate on Korea’s best known areas: Seoul for shopping and sightseeing; Jeju Island for beaches and golf; Gyeongju, the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site; Buson, the major port city; and Gangwondo province, home to Mt. Seoraksan National Park. Price increases of up to 10 percent are widely predicted.

A few tours for the early months of next year do appear in this year’s catalogs. Though they are still planning for next year, some wholesalers were able to give a sample of what to expect.

William Karz of SITA World Travel says his company will feature Korea at a Glance, five days/four nights at $1,440, double occupancy; and Best of Korea, seven days/six nights, $2,490, double occupancy.

To deal with possible price increases in this already costly Asian market, some operators such as Mark Sood of Touch of Class will be concentrating on affordable itineraries. Sood has seven-night/eight-day and 11-night/12-day packages to three popular destinations: Seoul, Buson and Gyeongju. Clients can choose from three hotel categories from standard to deluxe but dates and rates are not yet available.

Peter Kim, of Four Seasons Tours & Travel, does custom FIT tours and groups for 10 or more. Besides his choice of general interest trips, he offers taekwondo and martial arts tours which feature visits to martial arts training camps, especially popular with younger travelers. He also has special interest Korean Wave and Korean War Veterans trips.

Taekwondo is also a draw for Infotour, whose Jason Youn makes the rounds of American tournaments to churn up interest in his overseas trips. He says his biggest season for Taekwondo travel is summer, when the youth market is on school vacation and free to go. While the tours don’t make the big tournament dates, they do stop at training camps as well as taekwondo headquarters in Seoul.

Robert Park of New Global Travel Service will be repeating his Jeju, Buson, Gyeongju, Seoraksan six-night/seven-day golf tour in April, May, September and October in 2006. Exact dates will be announced soon. Price, including air and all golf fees, will come to about $2,600. Since his clients are mainly from the Korean community, many are already acquainted with Seoul, so touring there is not included but can be added.

Stopovers to other Asian countries, especially China and Japan, are popular options for Korea tourists. Seoul-Tokyo and Seoul-Beijing flying time is two hours; Seoul-Taipei, two hours and 45 minutes. Longer flights to Bangkok are five hours and 45 minutes or Singapore, six hours and 40 minutes.

Conversely, China and Japan specialists say that a Seoul stopover is extremely popular with their customers, who go there to sample the cuisine, visit the fascinating Gyeongbok Palace and shop. This top-flight Asian shopping destination is known for its wide selection from high-end to bargain knock-offs at indoor, outdoor and underground markets and big department stores. Duty-free shops are common as well.

Hard to find, but growing in popularity with adventurous travelers willing to accept “best available” accommodations, is a three-day North Korea visit. It’s offered as an option on Asian Pacific Adventures’ otherwise upscale l7-day group tour, Taste of Korea. This will go twice in 2006, spring and autumn. Price and exact dates have not been set yet.

Crossing the border is legal and safe, according to the company’s owner Hima Singh, who cannot say enough about the exotic beauty of the north’s Geumgangsan Diamond Mountain, the hot springs, the villages, the ancient temples, the circuses and views of rural life. (Cities are still off limits in North Korea and visitors should not expect to have much meaningful contact with the locals.) Singh will also offer a 10-day Taste of Korea at $3,295, double occupancy. Dates for 2006 are to be announced.


When booking Korea, refer your clients to

Besides a lot of useful information, there’s a Korean language course for travelers, new this year. The simple lessons, backed by audio for pronunciation, teach common words and phrases from beginning to more advanced. Even the most language-challenged clients will be saying hello, goodbye, thank you, excuse me and you’re welcome in no time, and may even be able to order their own glass of beer.

Korea Tourism Organization


Asian Pacific Adventures
6065 Calvin Ave.,
Tarzana, CA 91356

Info Tour Inc.
3345 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010

New Global Travel Service
3054 W. 8th St. #107
Los Angeles, CA

SITA World Travel
Corporate Headquarters
16250 Ventura Blvd., Suite 300
Encino, CA 91436

New York
350 5th Ave., #1421
New York, NY 10118

3050 Post Oak Blvd. #1320
Houston, TX 77056

401 N. Michigan Ave. #865
Chicago, IL 60611

Touch of Class
21820 Burbank Blvd. #225
Woodland Hills, CA 91367

Four Seasons Tours & Travel
3435 Wilshire Blvd. #143
Los Angeles, CA 90010

14795 Jeffrey Rd. #106
Irvine, CA 92618

9295 Magnolia Ave. #206
Riverside, CA 92503

112-1 Inuidong Jonglogu
Seoul, Korea 110-410