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Boom in Korean Visitors to Taiwan Helps Mitigate Mainland Shortfall

With a 30% drop in mainland visitor numbers, Taiwan has looked to its northerly neighbour to prop up its tourism sector.

Photo: South Korean tourists: On the fast-track to Taiwan’s cinematic settings. (Xinhua News Agency)
South Korean tourists: On the fast-track to Taiwan's cinematic settings.
Photo: South Korean tourists: On the fast-track to Taiwan’s cinematic settings. (Xinhua News Agency)
South Korean tourists: On the fast-track to Taiwan's cinematic settings.

Taiwan welcomed its 10 millionth overseas visitor of the year on the 11th of this month – some nine days earlier than it passed the same milestone in 2015. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the visitor in question was South Korean, with the territory having enjoyed a significant increase in the number of tourists arriving from its northerly neighbour over the last 12 months.

Overall, the number of Korean visitors to Taiwan has grown by more than 30% over recent months, according to figures released by the territory's tourism bureau in October. There has also been a notable surge in the level of inbound travellers from Japan and Southeast Asia in general, with the numbers up 19.7% and 10% respectively. Thankfully for Taiwan's tourism industry, these additional arrivals have gone some way to compensating for the dramatic fall-off of in the number of mainland-sourced visitors.

While the massive 30% drop in mainland visitor numbers has been blamed on both a bus fire that killed 29 Chinese tourists in July and increased political tension between Taipei and Beijing, the rise in Korean holidaymakers is being spurred by something far more upbeat – Southeast Asia's light entertainment industry. More specifically, with two of Korea's most popular reality travel shows – Grandpas Over Flowers and Dad, Where Are We Going? – having filmed extensively at tourist locations throughout Taiwan, many Koreans were keen to see these sites for themselves.

This has seen huge numbers of Korean visitors heading off to such locations as the Shida night market, Jiufen Old Street and the Gold Museum, all of which featured prominently in these travelogues. Indeed, so significant was the impact of such programming that local officials presented a special award to the team behind Grandpas Over Flowers in recognition of its contribution to promoting Taiwan's tourism sector.

Adding to the impetus provided by Korean broadcasters, Taiwan's own film industry is also said to be a deciding factor in the travel choices made by many of Korea's holidaymakers. As long ago as 2007 – the year Taiwan-made Secret stormed the Korean box office – visitors from Korea have been lured to the island in search of the stunning cinematic backdrops to some of their favorite movies. Almost 10 years on, the waterfront of Tamsui – a city just to the north of Taipei – remains a popular draw with Korean tourists, almost entirely on account of its starring role in Secret.

More recently, Our Times, a 2015 Taiwanese rom-com, also proved a big hit in Korea, attracting a fresh wave of tourists all keen to check out its locations. Meanwhile, the popularity of many of Taiwan's leading performers with Korean consumers has also bolstered positive perceptions of the island, with such stars as Chou Tzu-yu and Wu Ying-jie now household names in the suburbs of Seoul and beyond.

While the respective entertainment industries of the two territories may have provided the spur for increased visitor numbers, this growth has been facilitated by improved air connectivity. For its part, Korean Air has introduced direct flights between Taipei and Busan, in addition to its existing Taipei-Seoul route. In addition, two of Southeast Asia's budget airlines – T'way and Tigerair – now offer direct flights from Taipei to Daegu, South Korea's fourth largest city.

In terms of the total number of flights connecting to Taiwan, South Korea is now in the number four spot globally. At present, it trails only Japan, mainland China and Hong Kong.

Lillian Kao, Taiwan Office

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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