Seoul aims to prove that the city has much more to offer beyond the usual travel routines through palaces, shopping districts and barbecue restaurants.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government launched a tour product certification system last year that rates the quality of group tour programs in an effort to ensure that foreign tourists leave the country satisfied and consider coming back again.
The certification has selected nine tour products that satisfy standards of the certification, which include at least a two-night stay at a top-quality hotel; two meals a day that cost more than 20,000 won ($18); a visit to attractions and exhibitions with entrance fees worth at least 30,000 won and licensed tour guides; and spending at least two days in Seoul.
Some certified tour programs of travel agencies in Hong Kong, Thailand and Japan include a K-pop dance lesson, a visit to farms in rural areas and luxury spa experiences.
A three-day group tour run by the Thailand travel agency KTCC named "Outstanding Tour Product" features a visit to Jeongdongjin, popular for watching the sunrise, then traveling along the east coast by train and visiting a sheep farm, strawberry farm and Everland, an amusement park. The Seoul itinerary includes a visit to Seoul Tower on Mount Namsan and taking in the night view of Seoul on a Hangang River cruise.
Accomodation includes two nights at four- or five-star hotels in Myeong-dong and dining at a famous Korean restaurant serving barbecue (galbi or bulgogi), ginseng-stuffed chicken soup (samgyetang), buffet or hot pot.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government expects the tour product certification will raise tourist satisfaction and improve the image of the capital city and Korea.
"There have been complaints from tour groups, especially the Chinese tourists, about forced shopping trips, visits to less attractive places, which all downgraded the image of Seoul," said an official of the city government's travel division.
The city government accepts registration from foreign travel agencies throughout the year. Registration can be made by calling the Seoul Tourism Organisation at (02) 3788-0842.
By Lee Woo-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)