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: 2020-09-20

ITA CODE: SV TRV

Overview

South Korea

2015

 

2016

 

2017

2018

2019

Global Outbound Travel

19,310,430

22,383,190

26,496,447

28,695,983

28,714,247

Outbound Travel to the U.S.

1,775,000

1,983,000

  2,335,000

2,211,000

2,298,000

Global Inbound Travel

13,231,651

17,241,823

13,335,758

15,346,879

17,502,756

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

In 2019, 28.7 million Koreans, more than half of the population, traveled abroad with 2.3 million Koreans traveling to the U.S. (the number of Koreans traveling to the U.S. is an increase of four percent over the previous year). International travel is rapidly growing for Koreans and offers significant opportunities for U.S. tourism exports. The U.S. remains one of the top five destinations for Korean outbound travelers and is the top non-Asian and long-haul destination. Koreans overwhelmingly choose the U.S. as a top travel destination, primarily because of the diversity of tourism opportunities not generally available in Asia, including U.S.-style shopping, fine dining, theme parks, cultural attractions in major U.S. cities, relatively inexpensive golf experiences, and U.S. National Parks.

On average, a Korean visitor to the U.S. spends approximately USD 4,900 per trip. This number translates to over USD 11 billion in tourism revenue in 2019 from Korean outbound travelers to the U.S. Korea is currently the sixth largest source of inbound travel to the U.S., behind Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Japan, and China.

Korean consumer confidence has increased gradually across generations. Rising discretionary spending on activities, gradual increases in vacation time, heightened globalization, and greater awareness of international developments outside the Korean Peninsula are motivating more Koreans to travel overseas. Korea’s GDP per capita (PPP) rose to USD 44,740 in 2019 (according to the World Bank), placing it securely in the ranks of middle-income countries. Positive perception of overseas travel and the abundance of information-sharing through mass media and social networks are expected to continue to boost the growth of outbound tourism in the coming years.

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. Currently, nine percent of Korean travel to the U.S. is for business purposes. 

GDP per Capita, South Korea 2014-2019

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 this growing trend, as it offers all types of travel products and unique experiences. Moreover, travel booking on 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. Korean mass media is influenced by U.S. movies, advertising, and popular culture, which continue 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
  • MICE

Opportunities

The year 2020 has been a challenging year.  The advent of coronavirus had brought forth an unprecedented crisis and the Korean travel industry is among the hardest hit by the pandemic.  Between March and June 2020, Korean outbound departures decreased by more than 95 percent over the same period last year.  However, Korea is recognized for its successful handling of COVID-19 without complete lockdown and the Korean market is to become one of first markets to travel to the U.S. following the pandemic. U.S. airlines resumed flights to U.S destinations from July 2020 after a three-month flight suspension.  As more countries reopen, Koreans are preparing to travel overseas to those selected less-hit countries.  However, Korean government’s strict preventive measures such as a 14-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival, is a barrier for Koreans to travel overseas.  Instead, domestic travel has increased, driven by pent-up travel demand and changes in travel behavior seeking safer road trips and outdoor activities.

As the travel and tourism industry prepare comprehensive recovery plans, Korean market is expected to bounce back after COVID-19. The U.S. is 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, are the most popular destinations.  Koreans use group 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 this 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 developing the Korean market.  Contact the U.S. Commercial Service in Korea, per below, for more details.

Resources

Trade Events

November 9-12, 2020
Korea World Travel Fair (KOTFA) – www.kotfa.co.kr

November 9-12, 2020
Seoul International Tourism Industry Fair – www.sitif.or.kr

November 11-19, 2020
Mode Tour International Trade Show – www.modetour.co.kr

Key Contacts

National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO)

Korea Tourism Organization: www.visitkorea.or.kr

Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism: www.mcst.go.kr/english

Brand USA: www.gousa.or.kr

Visit USA: www.visitusakorea.com

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
E-mail: Jessica.son@trade.gov
https://www.trade.gov/southkorea