South Korea’s hidden attractions draw record crowd of Aussies

South Korea, often overlooked by Australian tourists in favour of Indonesia and Japan, is enjoying a boom in fans from Down Under.

More than 90,000 Australians visited South Korea between June 2022 and May 2023, a significant jump from the 75,000 visits during the same period in 2019, according to Australian Travel Industry Association (ATIA) data.

This year’s figure fell far short of Australians’ visits to Japan (almost 280,000) and Indonesia (about one million) during the same period.

But Dean Long, ATIA CEO, said it still represents the highest visitation numbers on record for Australians travelling to South Korea.

He attributed South Korea’s increasing popularity with Australian tourists to the “cultural phenomenon” surrounding the country’s music scene and streaming shows.

Flight options have also increased, with Qantas and Jetstar launching direct flights between Sydney and South Korea’s capital city, Seoul, in December.

Competition TV

Squid Game helped bring Dalgona candy, a South Korean street snack, to the world’s attention. Photo: Netflix

“We’re seeing people that have started to consume K-pop culture, even Squid Game on Netflix,” he said.

“That ability to see that type of culture, aligned with some really good improvements and increases in air connectivity between Australia and South Korea, [is] absolutely driving new people to South Korea that typically wouldn’t have visited before.

“There is quite a significant increase [in Australian visitors], and that will only grow more as time [goes] on.”

History, food and culture

Philine Matzner, senior travel consultant at Brisbane Travel Centre, said inquiries about South Korea have been increasing.

“It’s obviously a part of Asia where you [can experience] the culture … [and] where people feel safe,” she said.

Mr Long said the biggest demographics of travellers to Korea are Australians visiting friends and family, and people under 35 who are visiting for the pop culture.

The popularity of South Korean musical artists, movies and shows has created greater awareness about the country’s history, food and culture.

And even better, the real-life experience of these aspects are actually meeting tourists’ expectations, Mr Long said.

“One of the things [South Korea has] done a much better job of than some of the other destinations, is actually creating a demand for consumption of their culture,” he said.

“It’s [also seen as] a new destination and being able to go places that are new and different, [and which] end up delivering on the promise of their experience … that’s absolutely the key to being successful.

“And the people of South Korea are just the most welcoming and hospitable people you can meet, and as a result, you’re getting very good referrals from people coming back to Australia.”

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