The number of tourists visiting Korea has surpassed 1 million a month, but the landmark entails an acute shortage of accommodation during their stay.
Some 80 percent of the tourists to Korea last year visited Seoul, which required around 36,000 hotel rooms, but the capital was a whopping 8,000 rooms short. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, there are now 24,308 rooms at hotels in Seoul, just a fifth of Tokyo (124,000) and less than in Singapore (47,000), New York (86,230) and London (123,000). Already the shortage has prompted many Chinese tourists to head to Southeast Asia or Japan instead.
The shortage is also forcing many tourists to find lodging in the satellite cities of Songtan, Euijeongbu, Incheon or Gwangmyeong. "Some tourists are forced to take rooms as far away as Cheongju or Daejeon" in central Korea, said Im Jae-chul at the Korea Tourism Association. "They leave their hotels at 7 a.m. and spend two hours each way getting to Seoul and back."
Experts cite the dearth of the mid to low-priced hotels favored by the Chinese. "Chinese tourists tend to favor cheaper hotels on the outskirts, which cost between W70,000 (US$1=W1,130) and W100,000 a night, rather than top hotels in central Seoul that cost W350,000 a night," a tourism industry insider said. "We get a lot of complaints that it's hard to find affordable rooms near the tourist attractions."
Because they do not know enough about the local geography, many Chinese tourists are unaware how much time they will have to spend shuttling between their hotels and the shopping areas of downtown Seoul. "The lack of cheap and mid-range downtown hotels causes great inconvenience for many tourists," said a staffer with a hotel in Myeong-dong in the center of the capital. "Most of them come here because of their interest in the Korean Wave, but many of them leave with a bad taste in their mouth."
For the peak months of May, June, August and September, tourists must book their hotels three or four months in advance. "In the past the month of May, which is popular among Japanese tourists, was the only time of the year when hotel rooms were fully booked, but nowadays there's a chronic shortage regardless of the season," said a Hana Tour staffer.
"Tourists who end up lodging on the outskirts due to the room shortage may end up with a bad impression of Korea," said Kim Kyung-sook, a tourism professor at Gangneung-Wonju National University. "We need to bolster accommodation with a long-term plan based on proper estimates of the number of future tourists."