International tourists to Korea pass 12 million mark Friday

December 27, 2013
Foreign travelers enjoy the Hanok Village in Mt. Nam, Seoul, on a snowy day earlier this month. (Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul)

Foreign travelers enjoy the Hanok Village in Mt. Nam, Seoul, on a snowy day earlier this month. (Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul)

By Yun Suh-young

The number of foreign travelers who visited Korea this year reached 12 million as of Friday, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

This represents a 20 percent increase from last year’s 10 million. While there were concerns that difficult diplomatic relations with Japan and China and instability in North Korea would discourage tourists from coming here, the growth proves that such fears were overstated.

With Korea beginning to earn its stripes as a travel destination, the number of inbound travelers has been growing steadily. The number of foreign tourists was measured at 1 million in 1978 and 5 million in 2000 before seeing an explosive increase in the past decade.

Chinese travelers accounted for the largest group of foreign tourists who visited Korea this year, around 40.5 million as of November, representing more than a 50 percent growth year-on-year. This is the first time that the number of Chinese tourists to Korea has surpassed Japanese visitors, according to the ministry.

Jeju Island has been successfully luring Chinese travelers, with nearly 18 million of them visiting the resort island so far this year.

The numbers of people who visited from Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore also increased by double digit percentages. Much of the growth came during the winter holiday season with Korean ski resorts in Gangwon Province establishing a niche as cheaper destinations for winter sports and leisure, the ministry said.

“We believe that efforts to promote the country as the venue for the 2014 Incheon Asian Games and 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics have played a role,” said a ministry spokesman.

“The entry of cruises to the Jeju port has also contributed to the increase because the number of foreigners entering through the island’s port increased by 2.5 times compared to last year.”

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