Thai tourists surge on ‘hallyu’ boom

For an innumerable amount of newlyweds and young frugal vacationers, Thailand has been a favorite destination for many years now. This was not reciprocal as very few Thais visited Korea.

But thanks to “hallyu,” or the Korean wave sweeping Southeast Asia, more and more Thai tourists are coming to Korea.

According to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), the state-run promoter of Korean tourism overseas, Tuesday, Thais now rank the sixth largest tourist group visiting Korea after the Japanese, Chinese, Americans, Taiwanese and Filipinos.

As of the end of November, the number of tourists from Thailand jumped 20.7 percent from a year earlier to 277,000.

Among Southeast Asian nations, only Malaysian visitors increased at a higher rate of 44.9 percent to 102,000.

KTO also said that per-capita-spending among Thai tourists reached $1,392 in 2010, higher than Japanese tourists’ average of $1,070.

Shortage of flights

“There are many reasons why more Thais are choosing to tour Korea. Above all, hallyu is the main reason,” said Park Suk-ju, director of KTO’s Asia Oceanic division. “K-pop groups are enormously popular among Thai youths. Additionally, “Hello Strangers” and other recent Thai movies filmed on Nami Island along with the traditional popular tourist spots here have been a big hit among Thai moviegoers, further encouraging more people to come here.”

Park said the majority of Thai tourists are women in their 20s and 30s, adding their shopping patterns are identical to that of the Chinese visitors.

“Thai tourists buy cosmetics, clothes, and other fashion and beauty-related products. Many want to copy their Korean idols,” he said.

To attract more visitors from the Southeast Asian country, the director said the number of flights connecting the two nations should be drastically increased.

“Winter is a good season to draw more Thai tourists because it doesn’t snow in their country. But a shortage of airplane tickets during the winter peak season has and will make it difficult to bring more Thai visitors into the country,” Park said. “We would like to see more planes fly between Korea and Thailand.”

Subsequently, Park expects the number of Thai tourists to grow at a double-digit rate next year.

According to a recent survey by consulting firm Nielsen, Thais have picked Seoul as their top travel destination for three consecutive years since 2009.