December 10, 2011 08:11
A lot of tourists from Thailand are visiting Korea, even as travel in the opposite direction remains popular.
Nearly 1 million Korean tourists visited Thailand in the mid-2000s every year, and although their number is not as large as it used to be, they still make up a sizeable market for the Southeast Asian country.
But thanks to the weak won and the strong Thai baht, Thais now make up the sixth biggest group of foreign visitors to Korea after Japanese, Chinese, Americans, Taiwanese and Filipinos.
The number of Thai tourists rose 18 percent in 2009 and 20.8 percent in 2010. Only Chinese visitor numbers rose faster.
And Thais have already overtaken Japanese in terms spending. A Thai tourist spent US$1,392 in Korea last year, as against the $1,070 a Japanese tourist spent, though it was a little less than the $1,672 spent by Chinese visitors.
The biggest draw is the enthusiasm for Korean pop culture in Southeast Asia. Korean soap operas such as "Jewel in the Palace" and "Full House" enjoyed tremendous popularity there, as do K-pop bands like Super Junior, who fill huge stadiums in Thailand.
The Thai king's eldest daughter Princess Ubolratana is said to be a huge fan of Korean soaps. Since the Thai film "Hello Stranger" was shot on Nami Island last year, the number of foreign tourists to the island in Gangwon Province crossed the 100,000 mark for the first time this year, and half of them were Thais.
Many Thai tourists also want to buy cosmetics brand Dr. Jart, which is advertised by actress Park Han-byul, a Lotte Department Store staffer said. Other brands like O Hui, Sulwhasoo and Hera, are also popular, especially skin whitening products.
In a survey of 3,800 Chinese, Japanese and Thais in January by pollster Nielsen, most Thais named Seoul as the city they want to visit this year. They picked Korea and Seoul as their favorite country and city for the third year running.
A Shinsegae Department Store executive said, "As the number of tourists from Southeast Asia, including Thailand, continues to grow, we're considering expanding translation services and providing more customized premium services for VIP customers."
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