MANILA, Philippines - The number of Filipinos visiting South Korea is expected to fall by 1% this year, according to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) Manila Office.
Sangyong Zhu, director of KTO's Manila Office, on Tuesday said the total number of Filipino visitors may slightly drop this year but this does not reflect a decline in interest in South Korea as a tourist destination.
The KTO estimates 333,895 Filipinos will visit South Korea this year, 1% lower than the previous year's 337,268. The figure includes Filipino flight attendants, leisure travelers and overseas Filipino workers.
Zhu said the slight decline may be due to less Filipino workers being deployed to South Korea.
A tourist guide stands under a tree at Deoksu Palace in Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Kim Hong-Ji, Reuters
In fact, Zhu pointed out the number of Filipino leisure travelers to Korea has actually increased by 20% this year. "The figure is understandable given that the Philippine outbound travel market is steadily growing due to the strong economy of the country as a new emerging tiger in Asian economy," he said during the 3rd Philippines-Korea Partnership Forum in Makati City on Tuesday.
Korean Wave or Hallyu swept through the Philippines in recent years, thanks to the popularity of Koreanovelas, Korean actors and actresses and K-pop acts.
The strong interest in Korean pop culture has been attributed as one of the main reasons for the growing Korean inbound tourism market, as fans flock to K-pop concerts and filming locations of their favorite Korean dramas.
The number of Filipino visitors to Korea has rapidly increased with an average 6.8% growth rate from 2007 to 2011.
In 2011, 337,268 Filipinos visited Korea including mostly (68.1%) flight attendants. Only 26% or 87,505 Filipinos were leisure tourists, while 3.2% or 10,922 were overseas Filipino workers.
Korea eyes Filipino families, Kpop fans
South Korea achieved a milestone this year, attracting 10 million tourists as of November 21. The total number of foreign visitors is expected to hit 11.3 million by the end of the year.
Filipinos may only represent a small percentage of Korea's foreign visitors, but the KTO is intensifying efforts to attract more tourists from the Philippines.
Zhu said the KTO is targeting high and middle-income class Filipino tourists, particularly family travelers from Manila and Cebu, as well as Hallyu fans.
The family travelers were identified as those in their 30s to 50s, who are interested in Korean drama filming locations, visiting Korean cultural assets and experiencing Korea's spring or winter season.
The KTO official also identified Filipino fans of K-pop stars as an important target market. These are usually women in their 20s and 30s who travel to Korea because of their interest in Korean dramas and K-pop music, as well as fashion and beauty products.
The popularity of K-pop music among young Filipino women is evident in sold-out concerts of Korean groups like BigBang, 2NE1 and SuperJunior in Manila.
Zhu said the KTO is working to upgrade the image of Korea's tourism, as well as diversifying its attractions. The KTO's vision is "classy and advanced tourism leading to a global green Korea."
"Korea's tourism policy is future oriented and aims for eco-friendly cultural tourism," Zhu said.