August 26, 2023 08:15
The Seoul Metropolitan Government is turning mountain trails in the city into must-see attractions for tourists besides shopping and visiting royal palaces and K-pop locations.
Seoul Tourism Organization CEO Gil Ki-yeon said, "Due to the popularity of K-pop, tourists have grown more interested in Korean food, fashion and nature, and a new trend is mountain climbing."
The aim is to boost accessibility of hiking trails for foreign visitors. The STO opened a hiking tourism center in June near Mt. Bukhan, the national park in the capital popular for its hiking courses. The center rents climbing boots and apparel at affordable prices and offers guided hiking programs.
So far this year, 2,407 foreigners visited the center or around 10 a day, and the number increased to 20 to 30 a day once lockdown restrictions ended.
Most foreign visitors to the mountain used to be expats, but now growing numbers are tourists.
Out of 809 foreigners who used the center's hiking programs this year, 13.8 percent were Americans, 13.3 percent Singaporeans, 9.1 percent Chinese and 7.9 percent French. Some 85 percent were in their 20s and 30s, while 71 percent were women.
Lee Joon-ho at the center said, "Many young women visit us after finding out about the center on social media. Recently, a group of American university students climbed Mt. Bukhan on a graduation trip." Some scouts attending the disastrous recent World Scout Jamboree also scaled the mountain.
A tourist from the U.S. said, "In America you often have to drive for hours outside the city to go hiking, but it only takes half a day in Seoul and the courses are doable for the average tourist."
And a Canadian tourist who hiked up Mt. Bukhan said, "I traveled to many countries around the world, but Korea is the first one that rents out climbing shoes."
The STO wants to set up more hiking centers. A second one will open near Cheong Wa Dae, the former presidential office, in September, offering assistance to tourists wanting to climb nearby Mt. Bukak and Mt. Inwang. A third will open at the foot of Mt. Gwanak in southern Seoul next year.
Starting in the second half of this year, ridge climbing tours are going to be offered on a trial basis as well as trekking courses taking tourists around Gyeongbok Palace.
"We want to bring more tourists to mountains in Seoul, including group visitors from China, who are expected to arrive in greater numbers" now China is permitting them again, an STO staffer said.
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