Seoul is not new to most people in this part of the world. The popularity of K-pop and K-drama have made the capital of South Korea a desirable holiday destination.
The magnetic visuals of K-pop idols like Red Velvet and K-drama oppa (older) actors like Gong Yoo aside, the city is appealing, with its unique blend of history, culture and cosmopolitan vibe. Last year, Seoul attracted over 13.5 million tourists.
We caught up with Seoul vice mayor Liu Gyoung-gee when he was in Malaysia for the I Seoul U event on May 23 in Kuala Lumpur, to find out more about the city’s tourism landscape.
Why should people visit Seoul?
South Korea is famous for its beautiful nature, history and hallyu (Korean Wave) culture. In addition to that, people are friendly, and the warm hospitality is even more reason to come to Seoul.
Seoul boasts one of the world’s best subway systems, allowing you to reach anywhere by public transportation, as well as a walkable city environment.
I would like to extend the invitation to all Malaysians to experience all these sights and activities first-hand. (Malaysian arrivals increased by 40% last year.)
What are some of your favourite attractions and activities in Seoul?
I would like to mention the Fortress Wall of Seoul or Hanyang Doseong. You can see Seoul’s beautiful natural landscape from there. Another sight is the Seuollo 7017 (which opened on May 20). Previously an elevated highway, it has been converted into a suspended park where 25,000 trees have been planted. When you stand there, you can see Namsan, which is the southern mountain, and Namdaemun (Market).
Seoul is a paradise for walking, thanks to its subway network and other public transportation. There is a walking course that offers “time travel” through Seoul’s history. Start the tour at Seoul Station. Then walk along Seoullo 7017 until you reach Sungnyemun Gate and then have a snack break at Namdaemun Market.
Continue along the trail to Hanyang Doseong and then Baekbeom Square of Namsan Park and Samsoon Stairs. Finally, wrap up your half-day walking tour at the sidewalk of Hoehyeon Citizen Apartment – and you will have experienced Seoul’s 600 years of transformation from the fortress city of Hanyang to a city of 10 million people today.
How has the tourism landscape in Seoul evolved over the years?
Many people decide to visit Seoul after watching Korean dramas and listening to K-pop. Therefore, I would recommend Malaysians to try out programmes that offer first-hand experience of the Korean Wave instead of simply looking at it in the third person.
Visit the N Seoul Tower, Yeouido Han River Park & Ferry Cruise, Floating Island, Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain, and Gyeongbok Palace where your favourite dramas were shot so that you will get an idea how the characters felt in your favourite scenes.
In addition, Seoul offers various experiential programmes. There are the K-pop dance programme at Coex Artium of SM Town; the Broadcasting Theme Park Tour programme where you can experience popular broadcasting content such as dramas and entertainment shows at the broadcasting station; make-up and styling programmes that will transform you into your favourite Korean Wave celebrity; and cooking programmes that will give you a taste of what the characters ate in K-dramas.
In what ways have K-pop and K-dramas fuelled tourism in Seoul?
Culture is the common language of global citizens. The Korean Wave fever driven by K-pop and K-drama played a significant role in reinforcing Seoul’s competitiveness as a tourist destination.
The recent appointment of K-wave celebrities such as Red Velvet as cultural ambassadors is part of the efforts to connect with Malaysians through culture.
As demonstrated by the Chimaek boom (the practice of having fried chicken and beer) sparked off by the popular drama My Love From The Star, people’s interest in hallyu is expanding to Seoul’s history, culture and society, and thus, contributing to the development of various industries.
First-time visitors to Seoul usually want to enjoy the cultural content of Korean wave but their subsequent visits are often made with a feeling of personal attachment to the city.
K-culture aside, what other initiatives are there to attract visitors?
To ensure that the Korean Wave does not become a fad, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is committed to continuously develop related experiential programmes, such as beauty and K-pop dancing.
Efforts are also made to remove any elements of inconvenience in the basic necessities for tourists. We are promoting the use of foreign language menu boards in major tourist districts such as Itaewon and Hongdae Street. In addition, tourist police officers are ramping up crackdowns and encouraging an open-price system in major tourism districts in order to prevent tourists from getting ripped off. Also, there are more low- to medium-priced accommodations, such as urban guesthouses.
Seoul’s tourism website lists 85 Muslim-friendly restaurants. We plan to further identify 50 restaurants recommended by Muslims residing in Seoul and introduce them on our website and guidebooks during the latter half of this year.
We will also expand the number of languages (Korean, Thai, English, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Malay and Indonesian) in multi-lingual tourist signboards from two to 47 this year by adding South-East Asian languages, and train 200 new tourist interpreter guides.
What travel tips do you have for travellers to Seoul?
Go on foot when you’re in the city. We also have a facility called the Discover Seoul Pass. It is Seoul’s very first “free tourist pass” that gives entry at various tourist attractions for either 24 or 48 hours.
The pass, which can be purchased upon arrival at Incheon Airport, allows you free or discounted entry to a total of 21 attractions, including the four major ancient palaces.
Lastly, meet as many Koreans as possible. Go to our traditional market and universities, and develop new friendships.