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Earlier this year, when South Korea hosted the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, the country showcased its tourism offerings to the world. Now, officials from Korea are seeking to reinforce this message by focusing attention on key travel types, including culinary travel, health and wellness and luxury.
“The Olympics got a lot of media attention, and the games were very successful,” said Minhong Min, executive vice president for international tourism for the Korea Tourism Organization.
Min, who recently visited Los Angeles for a travel industry event promoting Korea tourism, said one of the benefits of the Olympics is an improvement in infrastructure. For instance, an express train built for the games has shortened the trip from Seoul to PyeongChang from four hours to just 90 minutes.
“The area around PyeongChang is very special because of its fall foliage and spring flowers,” Min said. “It’s also great for family travel — with access to both the mountains and beautiful beaches nearby."
Laudie Hanou, vice president for SITA World Tours, says the Olympics were an important milestone for the country, but there are many other factors also driving U.S. travelers to visit.
“Without question, the successful Olympics in South Korea was a wonderful platform for the American market to consider experiencing Korea and all that it offers,” Hanou said. “The diversity of Korea — including excellent culinary experiences, beautiful landscapes and world-class facilities — has helped the country become a must-visit. Plus, it has a very strong cultural presence in many major cities throughout the U.S.”
Certainly, one of the ways U.S. travelers have gotten to know Korean culture is through its cuisine. And while its barbecue dishes are probably the most well known in the U.S., the country has many gourmet restaurants, as well.
“Travel is no longer only about attractions and nice hotels,” Min said. “Food is a very important part of travel. Traditional, high-end food in Korea is more distinctive than a lot of other countries.”
Hanou agrees about the importance of culinary travel to today’s visitors.
“Food has become a top priority during travel to any exotic destination, including Korea,” she said. “Experiencing a country’s flavors and its cuisine has become a major passion for some people — not to mention part of their social media. And the popularity of Korean food here in the U.S. speaks for itself.”
Perhaps lesser known to some travelers is Korea’s many health and wellness offerings. Min says that the country is famous for its acupuncture treatments, as well as its beauty products. He says many spas focus on anti-aging and detoxing. In particular, ginseng — which Min says is great for moisturizing and anti-aging — is a common ingredient.
“Some spas are known for their use of red ginseng,” Min said. “They often have a red ginseng extract spa tub or have red ginseng ingredients mixed into products and treatments.”
Unique health and wellness experiences are part of what makes Korea a good upscale travel destination. And tour operators such as SITA can help advisors plan luxury vacations.
“Seoul is an amazing city with top-notch properties such as Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul and Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, along with world-class shopping and great attractions,” Hanou said. “With SITA’s ability to provide private, luxury travel, upscale clients can envelope themselves in lavish accommodations and rich experiences.”
Min suggests U.S. visitors looking for a more local experience should try one of Seoul’s open-air markets. Namdaemun Market (also known as South Gate market) has a wide range of items and is ideal for finding something unique to bring home.
Gwangjang Market is known for its excellent street food. Dongdaemun Market (East Gate market) specializes in clothes, beauty products, books and many other products.
Whatever clients choose to do in Korea, it’s clear they will have plenty of choices. The Olympics might have stirred interest in the destination, but the variety and quality of the tourism experience is what will continue to bring visitors back.
The DetailsKorea Tourism Organizationenglish.visitkorea.or.kr
SITA World Tourswww.sitatours.com