Korea Expo Digital GalleryThe Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) is hoping that 2012 will be a boom year for international visitors, thanks in part to a host of special events on tap for the year.

Much of the buzz is centered on the Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea, which kicked off May 12 and will run through Aug. 12. The site of the Expo, in the New Port area of Yeosu, South Korea, was chosen specifically to tie in with the theme of the international fair, which focuses on the preservation of ocean and coastal areas while fostering economic development through technology.

Tourism officials predict the city, with its more than 500 miles of coastline and 317 surrounding islands, is poised to become the next hot destination in South Korea. Top attractions include Dolsan Island, which is connected to Yeosu via the Dolsan Bridge and is especially dramatic at night, and the picturesque Odong Island and Hallyeosudo Marine National Park.

The good news for Expo attendees is that these attractions are adjacent to the fair venue.

In choosing the Living Ocean and Coast theme, tourism officials focused on the sea as a common link around the globe while boosting awareness of marine wildlife and resources, according to Min Hong Min, executive director of the KTO’s New York office.

“Diversity of resources and sustainable activities define the guiding principle that should inform all future actions regarding our oceans,” Min said, adding: “Only with sustainable use — in other words, finding the balance between production and consumption while preserving diversity of resources, species and culture — can the ocean and coasts continue to nurture all life.”

Highlights of the Expo include:

  • The Big-O, with a submersible floating stage where large-scale performances will take place with the open sea as a backdrop.
  • The 65,000-square-foot Aquarium, the largest in Korea, which is teeming with sharks, sting rays and sea turtles.
  • The 220-foot Sky Tower, which features an observation deck that offers panoramic views of the Expo, the waterfront and downtown Yeosu. It is also home to a pipe organ that has been listed as the world’s loudest in the Guinness Book of World Records.
  • The Expo Digital Gallery, which features a huge LED screen on the ceiling and walls. Visitors can submit photos during the event via a mobile phone app, and the images will then become part of the digital display.

The Expo, which is expected to draw about 10 million attendees and pump $5.3 billion into the economy, is part of a series of events that comprise the “Visit Korea Year” campaign, aimed at boosting tourism to lesser-known regions of the country.

“The Expo is expected to bring many more visitors than we would have in a year without such a large event,” Min said, noting that event organizers hope attendees will use the fair as a jumping-off point to explore Yeosu and the southern coast.

To accommodate the influx of visitors, Yeosu has beefed up its tourism infrastructure with the new high-speed KTX railway line, which can transport visitors from Yongsan Station in Seoul to Yeosu Expo Station in three hours and 40 minutes.

There are more than 450 hotels within two hours of the city, Min said, so accommodating visitors shouldn’t be a problem.

Although most attendees will be from Asia and the Pacific Rim, Min stressed that agents and tour operators from the U.S. are expected to be among the attendees.

“The Expo [will give] trade professionals a chance to … expand their repertoire of Korean destinations … that they can recommend and sell to their clients,” Min said.

Aside from the Expo, other features of the Visit Korea Year campaign include a promotion that offers a free night at participating properties with every three-night booking; free roundtrip shuttle bus service for foreign visitors from Seoul to Busan and Jeonju; and 30% discounts on KTX rail tickets.

Big events on tap in 2012 include the third annual Formula 1 Korean Grand Prix at the Korea International Circuit in Yeongam, Jeollanam-do, from Oct. 12 through 14 and the International Peace Festival from May 19 through 21 at the Demilitarized Zone and its surroundings.

For more on the campaign and the destination, go to www.visitkoreayear.com.

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