Tourism in South Korea

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The Deoksugung palace in Seoul, a popular visitor attraction

Tourism in South Korea refers to the tourist industry in the Republic of Korea. In 2012, 11.1 million foreign tourists visited South Korea, making it the 20th most visited country in the world, and the 6th most visited in Asia.[1][2] Most non-Korean tourists come from Japan, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The recent popularity of Korean popular culture, often known as the "Korean Wave", in these countries has increased tourist arrivals.[citation needed] Seoul is the principal tourist destination for visitors; popular tourist destinations outside of Seoul include Seorak-san national park, the historic city of Gyeongju and subtropical Jeju Island.[citation needed] Traveling to North Korea is not normally possible without a special permission, but in recent years organized group tours have allowed groups of South Korean citizens to visit Mount Kumgang.

International and Domestic tourism[edit]

The majority of the South Korean tourist industry is supported by domestic tourism. Thanks to the country's extensive network of trains and buses, most of the country lies within a day's round trip of any major city. International tourists come primarily from nearby countries in Asia. Japan, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan together account for roughly 75% of the total number of international tourists.[3] In addition, the Korean Wave has brought increasing numbers of tourists from Southeast Asia and India. The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) is targeting 100,000 arrivals from India in 2013.[4]

International tourists typically enter the country through Incheon International Airport, near Seoul, which was found to be the world's best airport in 2006.[5] Also international airports in Busan and Jeju are frequently used.


Year Number of international tourists
arriving in S. Korea [6]
1970 173,335
1980 976,415
1990 2,958,839
2000 5,321,792
2005 6,022,752
2008 6,890,841
2009 7,817,533
2010 8,797,658
2011 9,794,796
2012 9,190,000
2013 12,175,550
2014 14,201,516
2015 13,231,651

In 2013, travel and tourism (domestic and international) directly contributed KRW26.7 trillion to South Korean GDP and directly supported 617,500 jobs in the country.[7]

Arrivals by country[edit]

Most visitors arriving to South Korea in 2015 for tourism by nationality:[8]

Rank Country Number
1  China 4,712,133
2  Japan 1,742,531
3  United States 573,194
4  Hong Kong 511,703
5  Taiwan 504,233
6  Thailand 305,953
7  Malaysia 199,705
8  Singapore 142,879
9  Philippines 138,257
10  Russia 121,380
Total tourists 10,135,489
Total visitors 13,231,651


Japan–South Korea tourist comparison 2005-2015

Since Lee Myung-bak's visit to the Liancourt Rocks and demand for the emperor’s apology in 2012, the Japanese public's image of South Korea deteriorated significantly. Japanese tourists to South Korea declined to half from 3.5 million in 2012 to 1.8 million in 2015 while South Korean tourist doubled from 2 million in 2012 to 4 million in 2015.[9][10][11]

Tourist attractions[edit]

South Korea's historical tourist attractions include the ancient capitals of Seoul, Gyeongju and Buyeo.

Some natural landmarks include the peaks of the Baekdudaegan, particularly Seorak-san and Jiri-san, the caves of Danyang and Hwanseongul, and beaches such as Haeundae and Mallipo.

Apart from Jeju island, there are many smaller islands. Excursion ferries are quite common along the south and west coasts and also to Ulleung-do Island, off the east coast. Limited tourism mainly by South Koreans to the Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) has grown in recent years as a result of the political status of the rocks.

Many local districts hold annual festivals, such as the Boryeong Mud Festival and the Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival.

Major tourist destinations[edit]


Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul






  • Hanbat Arboretum
  • Yuseong Hot Springs
  • Expo Park
  • Daejeon Museum of Art

Gyeonggi Province[edit]

Gangwon Province[edit]

Seoraksan in Gangwon Province

North Chungcheong Province[edit]

South Chungcheong Province[edit]

North Jeolla Province[edit]

South Jeolla Province[edit]

North Gyeongsang Province[edit]

Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju

South Gyeongsang Province[edit]

Jeju Special Self-governing Province[edit]


South Korea has hosted many international events, including the 1988 Summer Olympics, the 1993 Taejon Expo, the 2002 FIFA World Cup (jointly hosted with Japan), the 2005 APEC conference, the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit and the 2014 Asian Games. The 2018 Winter Olympics will be held in Pyeongchang.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ UNTWO (June 2008). "UNTWO World Tourism Barometer, Vol.5 No.2" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-15. 
  2. ^ Kolesnikov-Jessop, Sonia (2010-11-11). "South Korea Sets Its Sights on Foreign Tourists". 
  3. ^ Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, NATIONAL TOURISM POLICY REVIEW REPUBLIC OF KOREA, July 2002, Page 2, Table 2
  4. ^ "South Korea in hot pursuit of Indians". TTGmice. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  5. ^ Phillips, Don (March 7, 2006). "Travelers call Incheon best airport". International Herald Tribune. 
  6. ^ "Visitor Arrivals". Korea Tourism Organization. Retrieved 25 April 2014. 
  7. ^ "2013 Travel & Tourism Economic Impact Report South Korea" (PDF). World Travel & Tourism Council. Retrieved 2013-11-27. 
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ "Aide's memoir tells why S. Korean president demanded apology from emperor". The Asahi Shimbun. January 6, 2016. 
  10. ^ "Foreign visitors to Japan" (PDF). Japan National Tourism Organization. 
  11. ^ "Press release" (PDF). Japan National Tourism Organization. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Korean Overseas Information Service (2004). Handbook of Korea 4th ed. Seoul: Hollym. ISBN 1-56591-212-8. 

External links[edit]