South Korea prepares for a tourism season at home

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Even though the European Union (EU) announced on Tuesday that South Korea was on a list of 14 countries allowed to travel there, international travel still looks difficult. Anyone arriving in South Korea from overseas is required to undergo a strict two-week quarantine, either at home or at a government-run facility.

They cannot leave their homes and are monitored by government officials, while those in hotels pay about US$100 per night, and there are no visits to cafés, bars, gyms or gardens. With few South Koreans spending more than one week on vacation, the burden of a two-week quarantine on return means holidaying domestically this year, says an Asia Times report.

Not vacationing overseas will be a change for globe-trotting South Koreans, who are among the world’s most enthusiastic travellers. According to the UNWTO, despite a modest population of only 51 million, South Korea was in the global top 10 when it came to spending on overseas travel in 2018.

However, because of the freeze in international travel, the sector in South Korea has taken a savage hammering. According to statistics from the Korean Tourism Association, or KTO, the number of foreign tourists visiting South Korea in March fell by 94.6% compared with the same period last year.

The number of tourists traveling abroad also dropped by 93.9% in the same month, while travel agencies saw their customer numbers drop 99% in May compared with the same period last year, according to local reports.

Hotels, motels, museums, attractions, tour guides, leisure facility operators, restaurants, bars and gift shops have suffered from the lack of foreign tourists. South Korea’s once busy conference and exposition sector is in a virtual shutdown and airlines are engaged in a cut-price competition.

But things are looking up as more than 70% of South Koreans say they are planning domestic holidays. The KTO found that 36.8% will vacation this summer and 33.9% will vacation later in the year, while 29.4% will not.

This year’s “vacation at home” season could prove to be a quiet plus for South Korea’s economy. According to, the country has suffered tourism deficits every year since 2010. In 2017, that deficit stood at $14.7 billion, and in 2018, at $13.21 billion. The near-total shutdown of outbound travel could remedy that.

While only 60 years ago South Korea was considered a developing country, it’s now one of Asia’s economic and cultural leaders. Super-chic Seoul combines modernism with ancient history; coastal Busan serves up rugged beach spots; and Jeju Island impresses with its volcanic landscapes and towering mountains.