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  • Foreign tourists to Seoul exceeded 10 million in 2013

  • Press Releases SMG 2668

    – The Seoul Institute released a study to promote quality of Seoul travel based on tourists’ survey

    – The number increased by 9.3% from 2012, Chinese tourists outnumbering Japanese for the first time

    – Business travel increased 26% from 2007 and international conference held in Seoul tripled from 2006

    – Average period of stay was 5.4 days. Long-term stay with more than 4 days showed preference

    – Average spending was 1.41 million KRW. Taiwanese spent the most followed by mainland Chinese

    – Hongdae district, Bukchon, Samcheong-dong, Cheong Wa Dae, Sinsa-dong, and Gangnam rapidly emerged as new tourist attraction sites

    – Overall satisfaction level improved from 2009 with accommodation, reservation process the most, while least happy with language barriers

    – Seoul Instituted proposes strategies to enhance quality of Seoul travel including fostering infrastructure for Free Independent Travelers


    The number of foreign tourists to Seoul in 2013 exceeded 10 million for the first time. The record breaking number can be attributed to the continuous increase of Chinese tourists, whose inflow offset the dwindling number of Japanese visitors. Chinese tourists’ consumption per capita also surpassed Japanese.

    The total number of foreign tourists in 2013 went up by 9.3% than the previous year. A closer look revealed that the number of visitors from most countries went up, with only exception of Japan. In particular, the year 2013 saw ongoing increase of Chinese tourists, who outnumbered Japanese tourists for the first time.

    According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the total of 12,175,550 foreigners visited Korea in 2013. The 2012 survey of the ministry revealed that 82.5% of foreigners who came to the country visited Seoul, and when the percentage is applied to the 2013 figure, it is estimated that about 10,045,000 foreigners visited Seoul, exceeding the ten million milestones for the first time.

    Increase of tourists led to boom in tourism industry such as accommodation and MICE business. In 2012, the number of tourism business totaled 7,225, 7.2% year-on-year increase and 26% up from 2007. The number of lodgings was also on steady incline since 2007 when there were 126 businesses with 22,400 rooms. In 2012, there were recording 161, with 24,884 rooms.

    The number of international conferences held in Seoul nearly tripled to 253 in 2012 from 89 in 2006. The increase attests the emergence of Seoul as a popular convention city. According to the Union of International Associations (UIA), Seoul ranked the fifth in the world and the second in Asia for the number of international conventions held in the city.

    The Seoul Institute conducted survey on 501 foreigners who visited the city during May, 13 to 29 on their travel experience and satisfaction level. The results were then compared with the 2007 and 2009 survey. In terms of visit purpose, pure tourism increased from 59% in 2007 to 71% in 2013, while participation in convention including conferences and exhibitions increased from 2.3% to 4.3% during the same period.

    Last year, foreign tourists to Seoul stayed 5.4 days on average, an increase from 4.8 days in 2007. Notably, long-term visit more than 4 days showed upward trend compared with 2007.

    In terms of accommodation types, medium-to-low priced lodgings use steadily increased than luxury hotels, with almost 2 to 1 usage ratio; 58.2% of the respondents said they stayed in medium-to-low priced lodgings, such as business hotel, innostel, inns, guest house, and youth hostel, while 34.3% of them said they stayed in tourist hotel.

    Among who stayed in tourist hotel, 21% were accommodated in two or three stars hotel, with the price range of 100,000 to 200,000 whereas 13.3 % of them stayed in five or four star hotels. In the meantime, medium-to-low priced lodgings usage increased nearly five folds, from 2.3% in 2007 to 10.3% in 2013.

    Between 2007 and 2013, spending per capita almost doubled, from 738,000 to 1,411,000 won. Taiwanese tourists were found to be the most generous with spending with 1,456,000, followed by mainland Chinese and Japanese with 1,445,000 and 1,398,000 won respectively.

    In terms of spending categories, shopping topped the chart with 543,000 won, followed by 487,000 won for accommodations, 316,000 won for entertainment including casinos, and 282,000 won for food and beverage. As for food and beverage, American tourists spent the most with 380,000 won.

    There were some changes in terms of the most popular tourism sites. Except for Myeong-dong and Insa-dong, traditional tourist sites such as Namdaemun and Dongdaemun waned in popularity. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of tourists to Myeongdong increased from 59.6% to 83%, and the number to Insa-dong went up from 36% to 49%.

    On the contrary, some of the areas where used to be relatively obscure for foreign visitors have emerged as new popular tourism sites. The districts which saw the surge of visitors between 2007 and 2013 are as follow; Hongdae district (6%→35%), Bukchon, Samcheong-dong, Cheong Wa Dae (6%→33%), Apgujeong-dong and Sinsa-dong (3%→25%), Gangnam station and surrounding areas (10%→19%), Daehak-ro (4%→15%)

    Compared with 2009 survey, signs and notice, foods, air quality, public transportation, walkable street were found to have slightly changed for the better, while traffic congestion, aggressive sales tactics, high prices, lack of tourism information, inconvenient accommodation reservations were cited as problems that need to be fixed urgently.

    Based on the survey, the Seoul Institute produced quality assessment as well. Categories were evaluated in sub-categories including importance and satisfaction. Each item was evaluated on 1 to 5 score scale, making the survey results easily readable and assessable.

    In terms of importance, tourists regarded accommodation and food were the most crucial parts. Accommodation was cited as the most important with 3.91 scores, followed by restaurants and taste and types of foods with 3.90 and 3.89 scores, respectively. The median importance value of the entire survey categories was 3.74.

    In terms of satisfaction level, the sub-categories of basic tourism environment of Seoul scored 3.66 on average in 2013, which was slightly higher than 3.62 in 2009. Both of accommodation and its reservation scored 3.86, showing the highest satisfaction level while the price of accommodation scored relatively lower with 3.69 points.

    The Institute interpreted the reason behind the results lied in the insufficient medium- to- low priced accommodations in downtown. Some of the visitors who had to stay in luxury hotels, found their accommodations to be accessible and easy to make reservation but too pricy.

    Subway system, taste and type of foods, shopping places were also cited as quite satisfactory with 3.85, 3.85, and 3.81 scores respectively. Tourists were least happy with language barriers (3.35). Other causes for dissatisfaction were as follow; street sales (3.39), signs and notice (3.48), and taxi service (3.50). However, except for language barriers, all the scores were higher than those of 2009, indicating a slight improvement.

    Based on the survey and results assessment, the Seoul Institute concluded that strategic efforts are required to maximize quality of Seoul travel, and set forth some of the recommendations.

    First, quantitative growth to attract more tourists with attractive items and contents should go hand in hand with qualitative growth by enhancing satisfaction level with basic tourism environments, including foods, accommodations and transportation. These efforts will make travel to the city more convenient and pleasant.

    For example, detailed measures need to be implemented in popular tourism sites to address grievances, while stepped-up efforts should be put in place where the number of visitors is on decline. In the meantime, constant monitoring and efforts are needed in traditional tourist attraction sites, such as Myeong-dong, Dongdaemun and Namdaemun markets, and Itaewon, for these areas often reported tourist grievances.

    In particular, the number of tourists is on steady decline in some of the most traditionally popular sites including Namdaemun market, old palaces, museums, and Itaewon, requiring urgent inspection and revival efforts. Review of basic tourism environments in these areas can be a fitting first step.

    The institutes also recommended Seoul to foster urban environment and tourism infrastructure so that individual travelers, whose number is growing steadily, can safely travel and easily enjoy the city even without a tour guide.

    Lastly, the institute noted that the city needs to address the tourists’ grievances in order to make visitors to come back to the city and spread good word-of-mouth about Seoul. Better public awareness and lower price levels would make Seoul more friendly and enjoyable for foreign travelers.