South Korea - Country Commercial Guide
Travel and Tourism

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2021-08-13

ITA CODE: SV TRV

Overview

 Travel and Tourism Market Data: 2016-2020

South Korea

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

Total Outbound Travel

22,383,190

26,496,447

28,695,983

28,714,247

4,276,006

Outbound Travel to the U.S

1,982,000

  2,335,000

2,211,000

2,298,000

   439,000

Global Inbound Travel

17,241,823

13,335,758

15,346,879

17,502,756

2,519,11

Source: Korea Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST), Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), U.S. Department of Commerce National Travel & Tourism Office (USDOC, NTTO).

South Korea has been a growing market in terms of arrivals and export revenue for the United States. Koreans’ desire for international travel and the abundance of information sharing through mass media and social networking platforms, has been contributing to the growth of outbound tourism. Unfortunately, the year 2020-2021 has been a challenging period due to COVID-19. The advent of coronavirus pandemic brought forth an unprecedented crisis and the Korean travel industry has been severely impacted by international travel restrictions. In 2020, 4.27 million Koreans traveled internationally, a 85.1 percent decrease compared to the previous year.  In addition, 439,286 Koreans traveled to the United States, a 80.9 percent decrease compared to the previous year.  However, Korea is internationally recognized for its successful handling of COVID-19, without the enforcement of total lockdowns, and the Korean market is set to become one of first accessible markets/travel destinations for America following the pandemic.  U.S. airlines resumed flights to U.S. destinations from July 2020 after a four-month flight suspension.  As more countries re-open and lift restrictive measures, Koreans are preparing to travel overseas to those selected less-hit countries.  Furthermore, domestic travel has resumed at a faster pace than international travel, due in part to displacement effects of travel restrictions and changes in Korean travel behavior seeking “safer” alternatives such as road trips and other outdoor activities. 

Prior to COVID-19, international travel was rapidly growing and offered significant opportunities for U.S. tourism exports.  The U.S. remained one of the top five destinations for Korean outbound travelers and was consistently the top non-Asian and long-haul destination.  Koreans overwhelmingly choose the U.S. as their travel destination of choice, primarily because of the diversity in tourism opportunities, not generally available in Asia, as well as for American-style shopping; fine dining; theme parks; cultural attractions in major U.S. cities; relatively inexpensive golf experiences; and the U.S. National Parks. On average, in 2019, a Korean visitor to the U.S. spent approximately 4,900 USD per trip.  This number translates to over 11 billion USD in tourism revenue from Korean outbound travelers to the United States.  In 2019, Korea was the sixth largest source of inbound travel to the U.S., behind Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Japan, and China.

Prior to the pandemic, Korean consumer confidence was gradually increasing across generations, but travel confidence was hard hit by the health crisis in 2020.  In the context of post pandemic era, rising discretionary spending on activities, gradual increases in vacation time, heightened globalization, and greater awareness of international developments outside the Korean Peninsula will resume and motivate more Koreans to travel overseas.  Korea’s GDP per capita (PPP) rose to USD 44,292 in 2020 (according to the World Bank), placing it securely in the ranks of middle-income countries. Positive economic indicators, Korea’s addition to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (late 2008), and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), which entered into force in March 2012, are helping spur even more leisure and business-related travel to the U.S. In 2019, nine percent of Korean travel to the U.S. is for business purposes. 

Korean PPP:  2012 - 2020
Korean PPP: 2012 - 2020

 

Source: Korea Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST), Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), U.S. Department of Commerce National Travel & Tourism Office (USDOC, NTTO).

South Korea has been a growing market in terms of arrivals and export revenue for the United States. Koreans’ desire for international travel and the abundance of information sharing through mass media and social networking platforms, has been contributing to the growth of outbound tourism. Unfortunately, the year 2020-2021 has been a challenging period due to COVID-19. The advent of coronavirus pandemic brought forth an unprecedented crisis and the Korean travel industry has been severely impacted by international travel restrictions. In 2020, 4.27 million Koreans traveled internationally, a 85.1 percent decrease compared to the previous year.  In addition, 439,286 Koreans traveled to the United States, a 80.9 percent decrease compared to the previous year.  However, Korea is internationally recognized for its successful handling of COVID-19, without the enforcement of total lockdowns, and the Korean market is set to become one of first accessible markets/travel destinations for America following the pandemic.  U.S. airlines resumed flights to U.S. destinations from July 2020 after a four-month flight suspension.  As more countries re-open and lift restrictive measures, Koreans are preparing to travel overseas to those selected less-hit countries.  Furthermore, domestic travel has resumed at a faster pace than international travel, due in part to displacement effects of travel restrictions and changes in Korean travel behavior seeking “safer” alternatives such as road trips and other outdoor activities. 

Prior to COVID-19, international travel was rapidly growing and offered significant opportunities for U.S. tourism exports.  The U.S. remained one of the top five destinations for Korean outbound travelers and was consistently the top non-Asian and long-haul destination.  Koreans overwhelmingly choose the U.S. as their travel destination of choice, primarily because of the diversity in tourism opportunities, not generally available in Asia, as well as for American-style shopping; fine dining; theme parks; cultural attractions in major U.S. cities; relatively inexpensive golf experiences; and the U.S. National Parks. On average, in 2019, a Korean visitor to the U.S. spent approximately 4,900 USD per trip.  This number translates to over 11 billion USD in tourism revenue from Korean outbound travelers to the United States.  In 2019, Korea was the sixth largest source of inbound travel to the U.S., behind Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Japan, and China.

Prior to the pandemic, Korean consumer confidence was gradually increasing across generations, but travel confidence was hard hit by the health crisis in 2020.  In the context of post pandemic era, rising discretionary spending on activities, gradual increases in vacation time, heightened globalization, and greater awareness of international developments outside the Korean Peninsula will resume and motivate more Koreans to travel overseas.  Korea’s GDP per capita (PPP) rose to USD 44,292 in 2020 (according to the World Bank), placing it securely in the ranks of middle-income countries. Positive economic indicators, Korea’s addition to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (late 2008), and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), which entered into force in March 2012, are helping spur even more leisure and business-related travel to the U.S. In 2019, nine percent of Korean travel to the U.S. is for business purposes. 

The recent boom of social commerce (social networks and websites that give product/service sellers access to a large pool of Korean consumers) is contributing to a growing trend, as it offers all types of travel products and unique experiences.  Following COVID-19, Korean travelers use social media platforms such as Kakao Talk, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, and other online platforms to search for travel information.  Korea is well-known for having one of the fastest internet networks in the world, and internet penetration reaches 98 percent.  Moreover, travel booking via mobile devices continues to expand for Korean consumers and is becoming a widely used method of travel planning.  Nine out of 10 Korean travelers own a smartphone, and roughly half of those users booked flights/hotels via smartphones in the past twelve months. The number of internet and smartphone users has reached 90 percent of the Korean population.  As a result, more Korean travel companies are now focusing on app-based travel platforms and other mobile applications, since the number of Korean travelers that are using online/mobile booking services is rapidly increasing.

Korean mass media is influenced by U.S. movies, advertising, and popular culture, and this influence continues to stimulate interest in U.S. travel destinations.  South Koreans’ positive perception of overseas travel and the abundance of information-sharing through mass media and social media are expected to continue to boost the growth of outbound tourism is the coming years.  

Sub-Sector Best Prospects

  • Free and independent travelers
  • Group package tours
  • Family vacation packages
  • Cultural tours and scenic/nature tour packages, especially designed for Korean travelers
  • Luxury packages catering to Korea’s single, professional women, traveling for leisure
  • National parks
  • Outdoor activities
  • Culinary tours
  • Educational travel

Opportunities

Tourism has been one of the most directly affected sectors by the coronavirus pandemic in Korea.  However, the tourism industry has demonstrated significant resilience, and when it is safe to travel again, the pent-up travel demand will increase for outbound travel. Even during the pandemic, Korean travelers never stopped researching and planning overseas trips for the future.  As the travel and tourism industry prepares plans for a comprehensive recovery, and with the help of the vaccines and other mitigation efforts, travel restrictions have been gradually lifted, the post-COVID Korean market is expected to bounce back.  New emerging trends such as health safety and hygienic travel conditions have become key factors for Koreans to select destinations and other tourism activities.

The U.S. has been the leading non-Asian destination for Koreans as it offers a variety of activities, culinary tours, and cultural experiences.  U.S.-bound Koreans account for 8.0 percent of Korea’s outbound market and there is room for further growth. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Seattle followed by the New York-Washington, DC corridor, have been the most popular destinations.  For outbound travel, Koreans use group package tours or travel individually to visit friends and relatives. Group tours can focus on price-competitive products that entice travel agencies in Korea to sell these products. Korean travelers are generally interested in the following activities: visiting museums, national parks, amusement/theme parks, fashion outlets, golf courses, buying OTC pharmaceuticals/vitamins and U.S. cosmetics, and visiting unique local restaurants and wineries.

To tap into the Korean market, American travel and tourism entities should provide marketing collaterals on their destinations in the Korean language and cultivate long-term relationships with the travel trade industry in Korea.  There are approximately 11,000 tour agents in Korea. Having effective training programs and promotional information on the U.S. are key factors in accessing and further developing the Korean market.  

For more details, please contact the U.S. Commercial Service in Korea. 

Resources

  • Trade Events
  • Korea World Travel Fair (KOTFA)
  • Seoul International Tourism Industry Fair:
  • Mode Tour International Trade Show

Key Contacts

  • National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO):
  • Korea Tourism Organization
  • Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
  • Brand USA

Local Contact

Ms. Jessica Son
Senior Commercial Specialist
U.S. Commercial Service, Korea
U.S. Embassy Seoul          
188 Sejong-daero, Jongno-gu          
Seoul 03141, Korea           
82-2-397-4587
Jessica.son@trade.gov
https://www.trade.gov/south-korea