By Anna Maria Espsäter | May 2016 | 12 minute read
Aside from the obvious draws like a 5,000-year-plus history, long list of UNESCO World Heritage sites and spectacularly varied landscape, Korea is riding a popularity wave based on a growing appreciation of its food, culture, special interest tourism and temple stays.
“South Korea is relatively new on the tourist map, so gives visitors a real sense of discovery. The culture is so fascinating and diverse – a fusion of local Korean, Chinese and Japanese cultures”
VANESSA O’PRAY, PRODUCT MANAGER, RAMBLERS WORLDWIDE HOLIDAYS
Seoul searching: The capital, Seoul, is a buzzing city where ancient temples and palaces jostle for space with modern malls and glittering skyscrapers
Gastronomy galore: Your clients will be hard pushed to find a bad meal in South Korea. From big cities to tiny hamlets, food is fresh, tasty and abundant
DMZ visit: For an insight into the Korean War and its long-lingering consequences, a visit to the Demilitarised Zone that separates North and South is a must
Four seasons: Spring and autumn are a popular time to visit for splendid cherry blossoms or autumn colours
Temple stays: Stay overnight in a Korean Buddhist temple
Park life: There are 21 national parks: hike in the summer and ski in winter
Fantastic festivals: South Korea loves its festivals! The country celebrates everything from the humble strawberry to snow crabs, mud and flowers of every kind
Happening Hallyu: Contemporary Korean culture has taken its Asian neighbours by storm!
Ancient monuments: Replete with historic palaces, temples and fortresses, South Korea’s varied and fascinating history is easily explored and visited
Volcanic visit: Jeju Island, a volcanic island at the south-western tip of the nation, was added to the UNESCO list in 2007 as a natural heritage site. Expect spectacular natural landscapes and scenic beauty
Food for thought
Awareness of South Korea’s many charms is steadily increasing, not least because of its delectable cuisine. In the last decade or so Korean cooking has become the fastest-growing Asian food trend in the UK, with more restaurants opening.
International visitors to South Korea can try their hand at making traditional dishes such as bibimbap or kimchi, but it’s not just cooking classes that are popular.
Aspects of Korea’s unique culture can be explored all over the country, for example, through drumming lessons, temple stays or taekwondo classes. And the rise of Hallyu, the so-called Korean wave of contemporary culture that emerged in the 1990s, Korean music (k-pop) and TV dramas and more are all increasingly popular draws for visitors.
South Korea has also been firmly establishing itself as a key sports tourism destination in recent years, hosting a number of sporting events year-round. And 2018 will see the country host the Winter Olympics for the first time, in Pyeongchang, Gangwon-do Province.
Several UK tour operators are currently offering tours combining South Korea with Japan or China, among others, while stopover possibilities when travelling further afield also abound. With the Olympics looming and other major events taking place in the country, this is a great time to be selling South Korea.
What the experts say
“Our key focus over the next couple of years is to leverage the Winter Olympics ‘Pyeongchang 2018’ as another great opportunity to raise awareness of Korea in the UK. We have already been positioning the destination as a sports tourism hub for active adventure and will use the legacy of the Olympics to make Gangwon-do province a place for both summer and winter pursuits.
"We continue to strongly sell Seoul as an ideal stopover alternative to Hong Kong, Singapore and other major Asian destinations. Experiential and themed travel, in the form of ‘Special Interest Tours’ , which includes UNESCO heritage sites, cuisine, taekwondo and sports tourism, are all key segments for tour operators to create programmes. The cruise market is flourishing too and more ships are stopping in Korea.”
CHANGHO CHA, DIRECTOR, KTO LONDON OFFICE
“Rising demand has led to the introduction of the A380 on the London-Seoul route, increasing capacity. As well as a varied and interesting destination in its own right, South Korea makes for a great stopover, or multi-centre destination, with good connections to neighbouring countries.”
PETER BARRON, SALES MANAGER UK AND IRELAND, KOREAN AIR
Operators: Bamboo Travel has introduced several South Korea tours; Ramblers Worldwide Holidays has reintroduced its walking holidays taking in the country’s highlights; Ace Cultural Tours is introducing a South Korea and Western Japan tour in 2017; and Explore will be running a new tour from the autumn.
Where to book it
A new 15-night South Korean discovery tour from Ramblers Worldwide Holidays takes in the highlights. Prices start from £3,150pp and include British Airways flights and transfers, B&B accommodation, dinners, local transport, entrance fees and guides.
Explore’s 12-day South Korea Explorer tour visits the major sights and includes a night’s temple stay. Prices start from £2,799pp and include return flights, all accommodation, some meals, local transport and guides. Departures are in May and October 2016 and March 2017.