S Korea plays up pop culture to attract Chinese

S Korea plays up pop culture to attract Chinese
Poster for the South Korean drama series, My Love From The Star starring Lim Soon Hyun (left) and Gianna Jun.

SEOUL - As South Korean reality shows, dramas and pop music sweep Chinese television screens, tourism officials and agencies are looking to further tap their commercial potential.

China replaced Japan as the largest source of tourists to South Korea in 2013, with a record high of 4.32 million trips made by Chinese people, accounting for 35.5 per cent of the country's inbound tourism market.

Among the most popular destinations of Chinese tourists is a display of theatrical sets used in the television series My Love from the Star at the neon-studded Dongdaemun Design Plaza.

As the TV series became wildly popular in China, a drama centre in the plaza featuring the TV series welcomed 1,000 visitors daily, 90 per cent of which were from China.

Choi Yong-hoon, a manager with the Tourism Policy Division, an authority under Seoul's metropolitan government, said he sees much bigger potential in tourism from China.

"It is one of South Korea's closest neighbouring countries. It is natural that the two countries boost strong tourism relationships," he said.

As part of an effort to increase the number of tourists from China, Choi said the authority has implemented a programme certifying quality tourism products in Seoul to further improve the tourist experience.

"Our primary purpose is to increase the number of returning tourists. If tourists are content with the experience we offer in their first trip, they will come back with their family or friends," he said.

The Seoul authority is also keenly aware of the role Korean pop culture could play in attracting more Chinese tourists. It has already hosted showcase events in China, including in Beijing and Guangzhou, to promote package tours, including those that offer a pop culture experience.

Choi said the authority is also concerned about the large number of low-quality travel packages in the market, most of which force tourists to purchase products at designated shops to make up for discounted prices.

"Such tourism products not only reduce the satisfaction index among the tourists, they also damage the image of the country," he said.

The metropolitan government has so far certified 10 tour packages targeting Chinese tourists and setting strict standards for accommodations, restaurants, cultural experiences and tour guides.

A survey conducted by the Seoul Tourism Organisation shows that an overwhelming percentage of Chinese tourists are young women interested in shopping or face-lifts.

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