Korean travellers; The underestimated wanderers of Asia

This article was written by Adam O’Neill, Co-Founder at Asia Advisory – Building people to people links across Asia

2018 presented some interesting evolutions in the Korean Tourism Market. Some of the leading package tour companies were going into panic seeing falls of up to 20% in their package tour bookings. This led the market leader, Hana Tour to launch an independent online booking platform, Mohaji in an attempt to create new direct channels to market and a targeted free independent travel (FIT) channel called “HanaFree”.

These evolutions are led by a digitally literate and travel-hungry generation of Korean’s primarily under thirty years old. According to the Korean Tourism Organisation, 26.5 million Koreans travelled in 2017, which is just over half the total population, reflecting an interest in discovering other countries and cultures.  Outbound tourism growth is well into the double digits at 18% versus 2016 and there is a confluence of factors leading here. Firstly, employment and economic conditions such as rising disposable incomes, gradual increases in holiday time, increasing globalisation, and greater awareness of developments outside of the Korean Peninsula are causing more Koreans to travel overseas. Secondly, Korea’s per capita GDP (PPP) rose to USD 39,434 in 2017, according to the World Bank.  This puts Korea quite comfortably in the ranks as a middle-income country where industries such as tourism flourish. Over the past ten years, Korean consumer confidence has also increased gradually, which has also led to a steady rise in discretionary spending on activities such as overseas travel for business and leisure.

Technology has also played its part in evolving the Korean holiday planning process. Korea is well known for having some of the fastest internet speeds in the world, and it’s not just speed which is feeding a hunger for travel content but also the accessibility and abundance of travel information. According to the Destination NSW team in market, there is a rising trend of booking experiences last minute at the final destination. This has been enabled by a significant lowering in mobile data-roaming charges where Korean’s can rent a portable wi-fi device for as little as USD 3 per day. Many travellers are purchasing transportation passes, attractions and activities after arrival via online channels. The ease of booking activities, attractions and transportation online is putting pressure on traditional travel agents to provide flexibility and options to travellers in an easy to purchase manor. There is more information available on the Korea Factsheet from Destination NSW.

It is no surprise that travel is a USD 2.92 Billion industry and grew at 18% in 2017*. Koreans have created their own genre of online travel websites called “AirTel” which sell Airfares and Hotel accommodation through easily accessible online and mobile platforms. The nation is becoming increasingly confident with independent travel having witnessed their favourite influencers travelling all over the world.

The rise of Social Media channels in Korea has led to a booming audience for Travel Influencers. YouTube is the #1 most visited website in Korea with an average session time of 8 minutes 20 seconds**. Instagram has over 12.1m users in Korea and is growing at 10% per quarter***

Source: * Hootsuite / We are Social Digital in 2018 South Korea ** Hootsuite / We are Social Global Digital Report 2018 *** Hootsuite / We are Social Digital 2018 Q4 Global Digital Snapshot Oct 2018

Korea’s Travel Bloggers

Most Korean Travel bloggers use Naver blogs as their platform given Naver is still the search engine of choice for many Koreans, but some bloggers are building up sizeable Instagram and YouTube audiences. Here’s a handful to give you an idea of the type of content in production.

Der Sinn des Lebens https://dongi0508.blog.me/

Love Mio https://lovemw3.blog.me/

AnLi Ju https://dlwndud1974.blog.me/

Jang Hee Jung – Travelholic https://nau2001.blog.me/

Patrick Blog https://blog.naver.com/dlaehdgkspro

Media Influence isn’t limited to online with a new type of Influencer marketing evident via Television Travel Variety shows. Over the past five years the reality TV trend has seen these new travel shows deliver smash hit ratings. Often hosted by Korean celebrities (K-Celebs) exploring places abroad, not only are these forms of shows informative but have proven to be funny and entertaining.

Battle Trip

The concept behind Battle Trip is simple yet something new where MCs are divided into two teams who go and experience a destination. Upon return they come together in the studio to talk about their experiences and decide on which team had the better trip.

Running Man

Running Man is a variety program which first aired in 2010. It follows a group of guests with an MC who travel to a destination and have to complete a number of missions to win the race. Seoul tourism organisation has even created tour itineraries to reflect episodes of the program. The show has also featured a number of Korean celebrities, proven hugely successful across other parts of Asia and made it into Business Insiders 20 TV Shows of 2016.

New Journey to the West  

Inspired by the classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West”, this rollicking travel-reality program follows personalities like Lee Seung-gi, Kang Ho-dong, Eun Ji-won, Lee Su-geun, Ahn Jae-hyun, Kyuhyun, and Mino on a backpacking trip across Xi’an, China. To make things interesting, the cast portrays characters drawn from the original novel, and together, on their trip of 5 days and 4 nights, they take on a string of games that will send you into fits and fits of laughter.

Where is my friend’s home? (The Homecoming)

This reality-travel program features cast members of another JTBC program Non-Summit as they visit their home countries of the non-Korean cast members. The show is light hearted as the cast experience cultures of various countries through homestay, meting the locals, and experiencing a better understanding of multiculturalism. First screened in February 2015 the show visited 11 trips to foreign countries and 2 trips within South Korea. The show has since been picked up by Netflix as The Homecoming.

There are a number of active free independent travel agents in Korea including the previously mentioned HanaFree and Interpark as well as Naeil TourBlue Travel, IOS, Segyero and Webtour who develop customised FIT packages. There’s a trend of Korean ITOs for the FIT market opening branch offices in Seoul. These serve a dual purpose of selling to trade and consumers as they extend their digital marketing campaigns.

Other types of new platforms are emerging with traditional online ticket agents broadening their offerings to include overseas activities. Modetour, one of Korea’s leading package tour companies is facing increasing pressure from Interpark, the county’s largest online ticket sales channels. Interpark averages 9.95 million monthly active users and now has a travel division, Interpark Tour focussed on selling flights, accommodation and overseas experiences. There’s a recently new start-up selling activities and experiences which is also worth checking out Yana Trip.

Focussing in on Australia, there are over nineteen flights a week from Korea to Australia. In the most recent 12-month period 304,400 Koreans travelled to Australia with an average spend of AUD 5,944 per visitor (May 2017- March 2018). Korean tourists contribute approximately AUD 1.7 Bn to the Australian economy and this figure is increasing approximately 10% year on year. When looking at age groups just over a quarter (26.4%) of total Korean visitors were under thirty years old. When this age range is expanded up to include people under forty, it makes up almost half of the total visitors to Australia (43.7%).

According to Tourism Research Australia, there is an interesting trend in the way Korean’s are travelling, they’re taking shorter trips but spending more. On average Korean’s spent 5.7 nights in Australia and 86% of those nights are in Capital City destinations. There is still a long way to go to encourage visitors to travel further and experience more of Australia.

Nearly one-third of South Korean visitors (29.4%) came to Australia alone, the next most popular group was Family Groups which made up approximately one-fifth of total travellers (22.2%) according to Tourism Research Australia. When looking at accommodation types selected by South Korean’s visiting NSW we start to see a unique picture. Over three-quarters of Korean travellers (76.4%) visiting NSW stayed in a rented house, unit or apartment. The next most popular accommodation was staying with friends or relatives (8.4%).

For more information on the Asian Tourism Market please contact Adam at Asia Advisory

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