The area surrounding Hongik University is turning into a de facto lodging town for foreign tourists. Over 20 guesthouses have sprung up in Yeonnam-dong, Donggyo-dong and other local neighborhoods in recent years. Dormitory-style guesthouses with shared restrooms and shower facilities cost between W20,000 to W25,000 (US$1=W1,179) a night including breakfast. Recently, single-room lodging facilities have become more common, while guesthouses catering only to female tourists have also sprung up.
The rising popularity of such budget accommodations stems from the increasing number of backpackers coming from all over the world.
"Few young people go for short-term package tours these days, and an increasing number of them come by themselves on backpacking trips to Korea, so they tend to favor affordable guesthouses," said Kim Hyung-sun, who runs a guesthouse near Hongik University
The area around Hongik University, a college known for its leading arts department, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. It offers a semi-bohemian network of coffee shops, eateries, flea markets, bars and clubs.
"The area has gained a reputation even overseas as being the mecca of Korea's indie culture and club scene, and these establishments are open all night on weekends, so young visitors are drawn to the area," Kim said. "I think Itaewon seems too expensive and outdated to them."
K-pop and Korean TV dramas have also played a key role in developing interest in the area. "I booked a room near Hongik University to see how young Koreans enjoy the dancing and singing culture," said one 25-year-old tourist who claimed to be an avid fan of boy bands Big Bang and Super Junior.
Kim said that 30 percent of his guests are drawn by their interest in K-pop. "When I turn on Korean pop music programs for them on the weekends, they all sit in front of the TV and dance and sing along," she added.
English teachers who work outside the capital also stream to the area. They travel to Seoul and book rooms there to spend the weekend enjoying the club scene among other forms of entertainment. Long-term visitors are also on the rise as more foreigners come to Korea for a few months to study the language, a trend that has led to an increase in the number of private Korean-language schools around Hongik.
Guesthouses near the university are becoming popular business opportunities for retirees, but those with language skills and Internet savvy have a clear advantage.
"You have to be able to speak English, and it's even better if you can speak Chinese as well," said Kim. "You should also be able to operate your own Internet site as you have to deal with foreign backpackers."