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South Korea Market Profile

South Korea is the second largest outbound market in Asia, supported by 56 nonstop flights from four airlines into two California gateways weekly. Mobile is king in the South Korean outbound travel market. Despite recent political challenges, South Korea travel continues to grow, fueled by the growth of free independent travel and the shift from cookie-cutter tour products to authentic, inspirational and experiential travel.


  • The Korean travel market is highly seasonal, which is evident with long-haul destinations
  • Mobile spending overall is rising dramatically, with travel impacting part of the increase
  • Rise in FIT travel impacts experiences offered

  • Television influence is still strong on destination selection



South Korea Profile

In Person Trips, 2017
$1.081 Billion
Visitor Spending, 2017

Market Conditions

GDP Annual Growth Rate

Korea’s financial market stays resilient, and the outlook remains positive. The IMF’s forecast of 3.2 percent economic growth for 2017 and 3.0 percent for 2018 is a very positive assessment on the new administration’s income-led growth policy. The outlook of South Korean outbound travel is as bright as ever, and there has not been a single month of decline in the sector. It remains one of the world’s most resilient and robust growth markets, with an average growth of 12 percent year-over-year since 1988, forecasting more than 26 million outbound trips in 2017.

Exchange Rate

  • 1 South Korean Won Equals 0.0009 U.S. Dollar
  • The South Korean won remains one of the most stable currencies in Asia.
  • The Korea Institute of Finance forecasts that the U.S. dollar to Korean won exchange rate will trade at an average annual rate of KRW1,150.

Travel & Planning Methodologies


  • 63 weekly nonstop flights
  • 22,491 weekly nonstop seats
  • Nonstop flights from four airlines to two gateway cities (35 weekly nonstop flights to Los Angeles and 28 weekly flights to San Francisco).
  • Korean Air has added a daily direct flight into San Francisco as of September 2017.
  • Asiana Airlines changed its aircraft to A350 for its direct routes to San Francisco in August 2017.
  • United Airlines upgraded its aircraft to 787-900 Dreamliners for nonstop routes to San Francisco in October 2017.
  • Airlines operate additional flights in the July to August summer high season.


  •  California is a popular destination year round for visiting friends/relatives and for bleisure.
  • Booking time is evenly spread and the booking window has become shorter. The normal booking window for California travel is three months for the main booking period (July to August, and December to February).
  • Top 20 travel agents handle over 80 percent of the outbound package tours.

Market Barriers & Risk Factors

Competitive Landscape

Other Market Insights


  • The second largest outbound country in Asia, Korea’s outbound travel market is consistently on the rise.
    • Korea Tourism Organization reported that outbound trips from January to October 2016 totaled 18.5 million, a 17 percent increase from the same period of 2016, and forecasted to reach 26 million in 2017 (equivalent to 50 percent of the total population).
  • The Korean travel market is becoming less seasonal, with a new pattern denoted as “regular-high-super high season” emerging.
    • Seasonality still lingers in long-haul destinations, where more than five days holiday is required.
    • Peak travel times for long-haul destinations are summer (between July and August) and winter (between December and January).
    • Other peak periods include two main national holidays: Lunar New Year’s day and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving), which fall in January/February and in September/October respectively, depending on lunar calendar.


  • Mobile spending overall is rising dramatically, with travel part of the increase.
    • Mobile is expected to stand even more at the center of all communication in Korea, which ultimately leads to mobile commerce.
    • Statistics Korea reported that mobile transactions reached an all-time high in the first three quarters of 2017, reaching over $31 billion.


  • Growth in FIT travels impacts diversity and authenticity.
    • YOLO (You Only Live Once) and solo trend is inspiring overseas travel; authentic, themed, celebrity, and customized travel experiences are sought.
    • Target segments for travel agencies have become diverse, extending to special interest travelers, solo/YOLO, mature active, mother-daughter and spontaneous travelers.


  • The influence of TV is powerful on destination selection.
    • Popular acclaim for destinations featured on TV stimulates actual travel demand.
    • Per Skyscanner, destinations where reality travel shows and TV dramas are filmed (especially those previously unknown) show dramatic increases in search rate for airline tickets.


  • Korea is the No. 1 country in the world for social media usage and mobile social usage.
    • 83 percent of total Korean population are active social network users, while global average rating is 35 percent.
    • 72 percent of Instagram users uploaded photos on Instagram while traveling.



  • The Bank of Korea
  • Korea Tourism Organization
  • DIIO
  • U.S. Department of Commerce
  • Tourism Economics
  • CIC Research, Inc.
  • Korea Tourism Organization
  • Statistics Korea
  • Skyscanner