RICHMOND, BC — Visitors to Korea from Canada are expected to increase by more than 9% over last year, members from the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) delegation told Vancouver travel agents attending an agent’s appreciation dinner at the Sandman Signature Vancouver Airport Hotel & Resort.
Toronto-based KTO director Doojo Kim said 2013 saw 133,000 Canadians visit Korea. “This year, 2014, we are expecting an increase by year end of 9.6% or 150,000 to visit Korea.”
Kim said there are several reasons for the steady increase in visitors from Canada’s two main draw areas of Vancouver and Toronto. Vancouver is a Pacific Rim gateway and has a large population of Asian Canadians. “More Asian Canadians are stopping off in Korea before going to their own country,” he said, adding that the cost is reasonable ($100 on Korean Air).
“There is also more business travel between the two countries because of the economy,” he said, pointing to the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement signed between the two countries in 2014. He said that with this agreement in place it should also spark more tourism industry business into the country.
There was also increased service to Asian countries during 2014 by air carriers and increased service does stimulate greater sales and interest in a destination, he said.
FIT travellers were also fuelling Korea’s upswing in tourism and it’s an area that Kim wants to see grow in 2015. The FIT market is generally made up of younger traveller looking for a sense of adventure, Kim said. They do not want a set itinerary and feel comfortable Googling for information as they travel the country. (Korea is a country that sees many English as a second language foreign university graduates from North America working in its schools).
Since Koreans take English starting in elementary school and through high school, young FIT travellers do not face language barriers. “If you talk to most young people, they have some English,” he said.
Another market that Kim sees worth developing for Canadians is the cultural attractions in the country. “The culture in Korea is one of the most impressive attractions,” he said, adding there is a long list of both cultural and heritage UNESCO designated attractions. The latest UNESCO attraction was added in 2014.
Namhansanseong, located in a mountainous area 25 kilometres southeast of Seoul, was designed as an emergency capital for the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Buddhist monk-soldiers built and defended the structure and it could accommodate 4,000 people while functioning as an administrative and military post.
As well, Korea has a developed theatre and music industry. “The shopping is also good,” he said, as new large malls have opened.
Kim said his organization has been promoting its Korea Stay, a home stay program that will appeal to individuals that want to experience the Korean home environment and culture. The homes have been certified by the KTO. “Most rooms have a computer and there is free Internet access,” he said.
Kim said his goal for 2015 is to raise the public image of Korea in the minds of Canadians by generating more media coverage of the country. He points to the new branding slogan ‘Imagine Your Korea’.
“Whatever you can imagine, you can enjoy in Korea,” he said.