More flights help South Koreans prop up Australian travel industry

South Korean tourists are keen to soak up Australia's sights in person following border closures.

South Korean tourists are keen to soak up Australia's sights in person following border closures. Photo: Getty

South Koreans have emerged as one of the biggest international demographics travelling to Australia since borders opened, with increased airline capacities a driving force.

The number of South Korean visitors passing through Sydney Airport has been consistently higher than pre-pandemic levels since April this year, and increased 45 per cent in October compared to the same period in 2019.

Even though the number of Australian, New Zealand, Chinese and American travellers passing through Sydney Airport outnumbered South Koreans, the latter were the only nationality out of the group to surpass their respective pre-pandemic levels of travel to Australia through the airport.

Official nationwide travel data for October from the Australian Bureau of Statistics is not yet available, but 27,700 South Koreans arrived Down Under in September; almost a 323 per cent increase from the same time last year.

The influx of South Korean tourists has provided some much-needed relief for Australia’s tourism industry.

Janene Rees, business development manager and international sales at Port Stephens-based Moonshadow-TQC Cruises, said South Korean travellers helped save the cruise operator from staff layoffs as the recovered after Australia’s border closure was lifted.

South Korea is now the company’s main customer market, which was not the case pre-pandemic.

“We’ve been operating for 40 years, and I can tell you during COVID we hit really, really tough times,” she said.

“We would certainly not have [recovered as well as we have] if it wasn’t for the Korean market, that is for sure.”

Young, travel-hungry South Koreans take flight

The type of South Korean traveller has changed just as much as the volume.

Rees said years of pent-up desire for travel during pandemic border restrictions has seen South Koreans develop a large appetite for travel, similar to Australians, and the younger demographic are the driving force.

“[There’s] a lot more free, independent travellers that really wanted to get outside the big cities, and really explore and immerse themselves into nature-based activities,” she said.

“We always had the honeymooners, but this time around, we’ve seen the babymooners, we’ve seen the education market, the student travellers – that younger generation has really been driving this.” regional manager, Oceana Todd Lacey told TND South Korea has jumped three places since last year to sit at No.9 in the company’s list of Australia’s top 10 inbound tourist market, based on search data. 

“Australia is a popular destination for South Korean tourists, particularly due to our great outdoors and open landscapes,” he said.

“’s most recent Holiday Home Outlook Report highlighted a majority of South Korean travellers…are most interested in holidays that take them out of the city and into nature, making Australia a perfect choice to visit over our summer.”

Peak tourism bodies have also taken notice of the South Korean market’s potential.

Tourism Australia held its ‘Australian Marketplace’ in Seoul last year to foster connections between the Australian tourism sector and South Korea’s; the organisation also held a ‘Work and Play the Aussie Way’ campaign, targeting South Korea’s working holiday makers.

Seat capacity a driving force for tourism

The increased interest in travel to Australia from South Korea might not have translated to such big numbers coming in so soon after the pandemic if the demand wasn’t supported by the aviation industry.

Pre-pandemic, only Asiana Airlines and Korean Airlines serviced the Seoul-Sydney route.

Now, they are joined by Qantas, as well as budget carriers Jetstar and T’way Air.

A Sydney Airport spokesperson told TND increasing capacity on the Seoul-Sydney route has boosted tourism for both Australia and South Korea.

The increased interest in travel between Australia and South Korea appears to be mutual; Australian Travel Industry Association data shows the number of Australians visiting South Korea jumped from 75,000 between June and May 2019 to 90,000 in the same period this year,

While aviation seat capacity is above pre-pandemic levels for routes between South Korea and Australia, many other international routes are yet to recover, which could account for other nationalities being slow to return to their pre-pandemic levels of travel Down Under.

“We can have the best products in the world and the best holidays and everything else, but without that aviation [capacity, tourists] just don’t come out,” Rees said.

“If the flights are there, they will come.”

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