South Korea predicts big boost in year of high-profile events

The New York Times recently named South Korea one of "45 Places to Go in 2012." Destinations Editor Kenneth Kiesnoski spoke with Min Hong Min, executive director of the Korea Tourism Organization in Fort Lee, N.J., about tourism to the country.

Travel Weekly: How did leisure travel to Korea perform in 2011? What do you predict for 2012?

Min Hong MinMin Hong Min: Leisure travel to Korea performed well. We surpassed the number of American visitors from 2010, and we received over 661,000 American tourists in 2011. Last year we received almost 10 million visitors worldwide, reflecting an 11.3% increase from total arrivals in 2010. In 2012 we expect to have over 11 million visitors, an increase of about 12% over the previous year due to mega-events that we are hosting, like the 2012 International Expo in Yeosu and the Formula 1 Korean Grand Prix.

TW: Is your "Korea, Be Inspired!" campaign ongoing?

Min: "Korea, Be Inspired!" is not a campaign; [it] is our destination brand slogan, and it will not change in the immediate future. What will change are the marketing campaigns; for example, this is the last year of the "Visit Korea Year" campaign, which began in 2010. For 2013 until 2015, there will be a new campaign, but that name has not been made available yet.

TW: What about regional cooperation in marketing? Will you consider partnerships with China, Japan or North Korea?

Min: We do find benefits in working with our neighboring countries. We will consider other cooperation projects with China and Japan. North Korea is a separate issue, and at this time there are no plans to develop partnerships with the North.

In the meantime, we do have a joint partnership with several other Asian countries with the online "Discover Asia Now" campaign. The www.discoverasianow.com site gives consumers insight into the region, including Korea and four other destination partners. Discover Asia Now is also a great way to help tour operators and travel agents to sell the Asia region by promoting their multidestination tour programs on the site.

Busan, South KoreaTW: Does the regime change in North Korea affect travel and tourism into South Korea at all? Have you seen an effect?

Min: No, the regime change does not have any immediate or tangible effects in travel and tourism into South Korea at all. Travel and tourism to Korea remains strong and growing year by year, and the KTO is proactively working to sustain and increase that growth trend.

TW: Have you had much success in getting foreigners to travel beyond Seoul and see more of South Korea?

Min: We are slowly getting foreign visitors to venture out beyond Seoul. In fact, one of the components of the Visit Korea Year campaign offers free shuttle bus service from Seoul to Jeonju, the capital of Korean cuisine, and to Busan, Korea's second-largest city and principal port.

TW: Can you comment on the importance of U.S. travel agents to KTO efforts?

Min: They play a key role in providing expert advice in a world that is full of virtual noise and mixed messages. The KTO will continue to cooperate with agents so they can become more educated about Korea and to help them promote and sell Korea. The success we have had in the past has been the result of an active partnership with U.S. travel agents, and we will strengthen our rapport.

For destination news and updates worldwide, follow Ken Kiesnoski on Twitter @kktravelweekly.

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