Travel Talk: Korea Tourism Organization

April Waterston, Selling Travel’s Digital Editor, spoke to Lee Jae Whan, VP Korea Tourism Organization, earlier this month at Korea Now, a public event celebrating the destination.

Londoners experienced a taste of Korean culture on Saturday June 10 at Korea Now, an immersive, public event celebrating Korean culture through art, music, flash mobs and iconic Korean food. 

The free-to-attend event was hosted by Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) at The Outernet building in Charring Cross.

After sampling Korean delicacies from steamed buns to seaweed snacks, Selling Travel sat down with Lee Jae Whan, VP Korea Tourism Organization, to find out what the event was trying to achieve.

“Now we’re in the post-COVID period we are looking to increase the amount of inbound travellers to Korea,” said Whan. “Through this event, we want to tell people about the unique food and culture, increase awareness and hopefully increase the amount of people who want to visit Korea.”

So, why now? Whan explained that, aside from rebuilding post-Covid, 2023 marks a special milestone for Korea and the United Kingdom.

“This year is especially important as it marks 140 years of relations between Korea and Britain, so it is a very special year to celebrate. 

“Last year, President Yoon embarked on a very successful trip to the UK to further strengthen relations between Korea and Britain.”

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Lee Jae Whan, VP Korea Tourism Organization. Photo credit: Mark Chilvers.

Visit Korea 2023 

The KTO has named 2023-2024 as the year to ‘Visit Korea’. The campaign aims to firmly place the destination on the bucket list of global travellers.

“Our new President was elected in 2022. The first thing on his agenda was to increase our relationship between all the other countries. That’s why we have launched ‘Visit Korea’ year,” explained Whan.

What’s new in Korea 

“Post-Covid, around 90% of travellers to Korea only went to Seoul,” said Whan. To counter this, the KTO is aiming to raise awareness of lesser-known gems throughout the country. “We recently selected 100 destinations across the country as must-visit spots.

“We’re trying to extend travel around Korea because there is more beauty, more traditions and more culture than travellers may realise.

“Recently, we’ve opened the Blue House, which is like the U.S. White House, but in Korea. That was where Presidents have lived for over 70 years, but now we are giving it back to our people. Travellers can see the beauty of Korea, and the beauty of how Korean Presidents lived in that residence.”

The Blue House is ideally located to be combined with a day trip that includes a visit to Gyeongbokgung and Bukchon Hanok Village, too. The KTO is aiming to position the Blue House as a must-visit place for visitors, similar to the White House in Washington DC and Buckingham Palace in London.

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Celebrating culture

K-culture has boomed across the globe in recent years, through cinema, music (K-pop) and more. 

“What we’re trying to do is show that there is more to Korea than just watching it – there’s a chance to experience it if you come to Korea,” said Whan. “We can show you what it is like to live in Korea. You can touch, feel, and of course taste the food. 

“The K-culture started off as K-pop and K-drama, but we have extended it to K-food, K-wellness, K-healthcare and K-beauty as well.”

Supporting the trade 

In an effort to boost travel to Korea, the KTO is keen to support the trade and work collaboratively to make it an easier destination to sell.

”We’d like to create many more itineraries with travel agencies, something we can promote together. We are going to contact travel agencies to send more information, and we’re going to try to connect UK outbound agencies and South Korean inbound agencies, so they can network and work together.

Currently the KTO is offering discounted flight tickets to Korea, with a 15% sales discount until end of the June, and 50% off a selection of hotels. Entering the country has also never been easier, as for 2023 the K-ETA (Korean Electronic Travel Authorisation) e-visa has been waived for travellers from the UK.

Connect with Korea

The KTO will be networking with agents next week in London and Manchester at Selling Travel Connect: Asia. Agents can register to attend – for free! – here.