As the Korean tourism industry fully rebounds from the impact of the MERS outbreak earlier this year, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) has begun promoting friendly interactions with inbound tourists as part of its new “K-Smile Friendliness Campaign”.
It is the latest of several initiatives the KTO has launched in recent months to improve the nation’s service sector for international visitors before the Visit Korea Year 2016-2018 campaign leading up to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.
Just a few months ago, the inbound travel market for Korea reflected the fears caused by MERS for the international community: inbound arrivals for June were at -41% over that of the same period last year, while in July the figure stood at -53%. After a month of no further MERS cases confirmed and an all-clear by the national government, tourist arrivals increased rapidly. August arrivals stood at an improved -25%, followed by a dramatic improvement of -3.1% in September. October was consistently Korea’s busiest month for tourism and MICE arrivals, and arrivals are expected to exceed that of October last year.
Ever since the outbreak, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism has been spreading a message of welcome and striving to restore confidence in Korea. Over the past several months, the KTO has launched a series of successful initiatives to bring visitors back to their favored destinations, while simultaneously showcasing Korea’s appeal to newcomers. Major examples include efforts to engage the Chinese market – Korea’s largest inbound feeder market for tourism.
In July the KTO produced a well-received promotional video starring Korean celebrity Lee Minho, which showcased the nation’s major attractions. Broadcast on CNN, CCTV, and other prominent overseas networks, the video garnered 7 million views in its first three weeks on YouTube. Further promotions have been conducted overseas via KTO branches worldwide, including London, New York, Gwangzhou, Bangkok, Tokyo, and elsewhere.
Building upon the success of these endeavors, the new K-Smile campaign was launched in October to maintain positive momentum for the rest of 2015 and the years ahead. This includes the upcoming 2016-2018 Visit Korea Campaign and the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, both of which are expected to draw a large influx of overseas visitors.
Education on service and friendliness is a key part of K-Smile. Seminars and workshops will continue to take place throughout the rest of the year at the KTO’s Benikea hotels and Goodstay brand accommodation, as well as for tourism industry interpreters, city-appointed tour guides, and more. The education programs will be followed by a review of all KTO-certified accommodation facilities, totaling over 1,100 locations.
Up to 150 incentive events inbound to Korea will also be officially supported by the K-Smile campaign. Support offered includes airport welcome events, souvenirs, custom banners, and more. In addition, promotional materials and other items are being made available specially for MICE visitors during the campaign – most recently for the 1,500 participants of the October 22 World Knowledge Forum in Seoul.
During the following weeks, the K-Smile campaign will also set off on a multi-city relay spanning the entire peninsula and hitting 17 different cities and provinces.