April 04, 2015 08:10
An increase in tourists from the Middle East is prompting the local tourism industry to adapt to their needs.
The number of tourists from the Middle East rose from 380,000 in 2010 to around 750,000 last year, almost a five-fold increase and roughly equivalent to American visitors (770,000).
Five-star hotels in downtown Seoul are offering prayer rooms for wealthy Middle Eastern guests and have added halal food to their menus. "We have many guests from the Middle East and make sure to supply halal food all the time to meet demands from guests," one staffer said.
One Korean restaurant in a five-star hotel in Seoul recently introduced a Korean menu using halal ingredients.
Hospitals are especially keen to cash in on Middle Eastern visitors, who often combine treatment for obesity-related diseases with a family holiday. Many large hospitals, including Seoul National University Hospital, provide halal meals and prayer rooms. More hospitals also offer Arabic interpreters.
"Muslim guests usually spend several times more money than Koreans even when undergoing a routine checkup," a hospital staffer said.
According to the Korea Tourism Organization, tourists from the United Arab Emirates spent the most per person on medical treatment in Korea in 2013 with W17.71 million (US$1=W1,093) per patient, 10 times more than the average of W1.86 million spent by other foreign visitors.
The government hopes to tap into this trend to generate more tourism revenues. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism decided recently to rate eateries here in terms of how Muslim-friendly they are.
A government official said, "The number of Korean Wave fan clubs in the Middle East rose from 76 in 2013 to 84 last year, and the number of fans rose from 60,000 to 100,000, according to one study. We will see intensifying competition to attract Middle Eastern tourists."
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