Published - Hotels eyeing Korean market

Sheraton Incheon Hotel
After years of benign neglect, the South Korean government is giving its tourism sector a bit of attention. Last year, South Korea started a campaign to attract 10 million foreign tourists annually by 2012 and increase the nation’s tourism revenue to $10 billion. The new goal is exciting hotel operators, who have long relied on business travelers to fill their rooms. Ho Kwon Ping, the founder and executive chairman of the luxury hotel group Banyan Tree, opened his first resort in Seoul in June, the Banyan Tree Club & Spa Seoul. “The Korean inbound tourism hasn’t really been developed. It’s largely a domestic market, with some Japanese and Northeast Asians; that’s the main market for us right now,” Mr. Ho said. “But Korea remains a place we’re very interested in because the Korean government is now very much promoting tourism and the areas of potential interest in Korea are many.” The government campaign may be bearing fruit. In 2009, 7.81 million foreigners visited the country. During 2010, inbound foreign tourists are expected to exceed the government target of 8.5 million. Still, this figure compares poorly with those for places like Singapore, where tourists numbered 9.7 million in 2009 and are forecast by the Singapore Tourism Board to reach between 11.5 and 12.5 million this year, after the opening of two resorts containing casinos. As South Korea has been preparing to receive more than 10,000 visitors for the summit meeting in Seoul of the Group of 20 leading industrialized and emerging economies, the country’s hospitality industry has been hard at work. In recent months, rooms at top hotels have been remodeled and menus reinvented to highlight the best of Korean cuisine. The event has been viewed as an excellent opportunity to showcase Korean culture. Despite South Korea’s location, mature economy and diverse natural attractions, the country’s tourism industry remains relatively small. But many international hotel operators have been encouraged by the government’s recent push to increase tourist arrivals, and are now hoping to open new properties in a market where they see great potential. Read the whole IHT story here.