An increasing number of foreign tourists in Seoul visit the Gangnam area south of the Han River.
They normally visit Gangbuk north of the river to look at heritage sites and shopping districts including Myeong-dong, Gwanghwamun, Insa-dong and Namdaemun Market. According to a survey by Cosmojin Tour, 88 percent of those visiting the northern part of Seoul opt for the royal palaces, museums and traditional markets.
But tourists to Gangnam come for different reasons, visiting Cheongdam-dong and Sinsa-dong with their trendy cafes and label stores and the cluster of plastic surgery clinics in Apgujeong-dong. The Seoul Tourism Organization, a corporation primarily funded by the Seoul city government, in a survey found that almost half or 47 percent of tourists to the southern part of the city go there to see fashionable areas and get medical checkups and cosmetic surgery.
The profile of visitors is naturally also different. Those who visit northern Seoul are largely first-time visitors and package tour groups. "Package tours tend to include trips to provincial areas such as Jeju Island and Gangwon Province, so the itinerary in Seoul centers on the northern part of the city," the STO said. By contrast, the southern part of Seoul appeals to foreigners who have been to the country before, young individual tourists following the latest trend and fashion, and visitors for business or medical purposes.
Hana Tour said due to the sweeping popularity of Korean pop culture, foreign tourists are attracted to the Gangnam area, in particular places where Korean dramas or movies were shot and clinics where famous actors or singers reportedly had a plastic surgery.
Industry insiders attribute the new shift from ready-made itineraries to individually planned routes to social networking services and blogs. "Many Japanese tourists do an Internet search first and explore hidden places in the Gangnam area," the STO said. Hana Tour said Japanese people are attentive to detail, so the content of blogs is very specific, pointing out, for example, which dishes are best at a particular restaurant.
Given the trend, Seoul city has started a program inviting influential bloggers in Japan and China to experience the Korean capital.
But travel agencies say there is much room for improvement. "The southern part of the city has as many tourism resources as the northern part, but it lacks infrastructure such as tourist information centers and tour guides," the STO said.