More ME travellers lured by sparkling Korea

The Seoul Tower: Korea seeks higher tourist arrivals from the Middle East

With Emirates already connecting Seoul daily and Korean Air set to launch a direct flight to Dubai from this month, Korea has become closer than ever.

Already, there are over 40 weekly connections to Korea from the GCC.
With its new brand, Korea Sparkling, the Far Eastern country hopes to attract 100,000 Middle Eastern visitors by 2010.
Kim Baeho, director of the Korea Tourism Organization in Dubai, which is responsible for the Middle East, North Africa and CIS countries, tells TTN’s SHALU CHANDRAN how his team intends to go about achieving that target.

How has the Middle East contributed to tourist arrivals into Korea this year?
Thus far, 2007 has proven to be the strongest year for Korea’s tourism industry, and so far this year, there has been a 22.3 per cent increase in total visitor arrivals to the country. Since opening our regional office in Dubai in 2005, tourist arrivals from the GCC have maintained an average annual growth rate of 20 per cent. This year, the high yield markets of the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia exceeded our expectations with growth beyond 30 per cent. The recent launch of the KNTO’s new tourism brand, Korea, Sparkling, will no doubt continue to boost arrivals in the coming months.   
So how will those numbers be impacted in 2008?
The KNTO plans to attract more than 100,000 visitors to Korea from the Middle East by 2010. This will be an increase of 30 per cent over current arrival numbers. To achieve this goal, we will focus on differentiating Korea from other Asian countries by effectively communicating our brand, Korea, Sparkling.

Who are your major source markets?
The neighboring countries of Japan and China are two of the strongest inbound markets for Korea. Russia, the US, Malaysia, Australia and Europe are other big markets. From the Middle East, Egypt and Turkey are two of our largest markets, but by 2009, GCC tourists are expected to surpass these in number.

How effective has the Korea, Sparkling programme been in the region?
We launched our new brand in early 2007 to strengthen the tourism identity of Korea. It has been one of our strongest marketing campaigns, and although it’s too early to gauge the effect, we have noticed a remarkable increase in arrivals from the Middle East this summer. KNTO Dubai continues to make efforts to increase brand awareness of Korea, Sparkling in GCC through a variety of events for media and tourism industry partners. The KNTO has also been working closely with the Korea Muslim Federation in order to better understand the needs of Muslim visitors and we have developed several packages in line with Islamic guidelines to make Korea a welcoming destination for Muslims.

What about the MICE market? What is the potential?
There are several state-of-the-art convention facilities in cities across Korea. Since 2005, Korea has been ranked the second most popular destination in Asia to host MICE events and in 2006, Seoul was ranked among the top 10 cities in the world for hosting international events. Therefore, our efforts will be to introduce Korea to various stakeholders in the region to highlight the extraordinary infrastructure that we possess for organizing and hosting large-scale events. The KNTO has already teamed up with a travel agency in the Middle East that specializes in MICE to explore the possibility of further promoting the country’s facilities.