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In February, athletes, journalists and tourists congregated in South Korea’s mountainous Pyeongchang region for the 2018 Winter Olympics, held just 50 miles from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) shared with North Korea.
Over the course of 16 days, the world looked beyond the news media’s narrative of political uncertainty to find a nation both secure and welcoming, according to Heesun Kim, the executive director for the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) in Los Angeles. In fact, she says, interest in visiting the country — and even its border — has spiked, particularly with millennials. We asked Kim to tell us more about how the perception of Korea is changing post-Olympics and how KTO plans to capitalize on the momentum.
How have the 2018 Winter Olympics impacted tourism in Korea?We had a difficult 2017 because of missile tests and other North Korean issues. A lot of that fear was gone with the Olympics. It was educational for many people and showed that Korea is more than the tension between the north and south; it’s not something to feel threatened by.
Our inbound flight bookings for February were 15.4 percent higher than the same period last year. Overall, compared to the prior year, our inbound tourism numbers have increased by 25.3 percent. Tourism from the U.S. market grew particularly among the 20 to 30 age range, which accounts for about 41 to 44 percent of the increase over this period.
What does KTO have planned to take advantage of this attention? This year, we’ve joined Signature Travel Network. Tour operators see great potential because Korea is such a service-oriented country.
Sustaining this media exposure is really important. We are trying to do so by running advertorials with The Los Angeles Times. We also plan to host a Korea festival, a branding show and consumer events.
We would like to show that Korea is more than the Winter Olympic Games. The country has 5,000 years of history and UNESCO World Heritage sites, as well as advanced infrastructure and bullet trains everywhere.
How does South Korea continue to attract travelers despite the tensions with North Korea? For Koreans, this north and south tension is just like the threat of earthquakes for Southern Californians.
I’ve lived in Korea for almost half a century, and I’ve never felt threatened like the media makes it seem. It has been taken out of proportion. As a result, people misinterpret Korea as a dangerous country.
You’ve already witnessed more than 10,000 U.S. athletes and media go there, and they came back in one piece. It testifies that Korea is safe.
The DetailsKorea Tourism Organization www.english.visitkorea.or.kr