Stronger won just the ticket for travel

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 November, 2004, 12:00am

Thanks largely to the won's new-found strength against the US dollar, Seoul resident Kang Chul-soo and his wife, along with 17 other retiree friends, recently made their first visit to China.

At about US$700 per person, the four-day trip to Hunan province, which included a return flight from Seoul, accommodations and food, was very affordable - especially in won terms.

'The people I travelled with aren't rich. It wasn't a luxurious trip, but it was affordable,' said Mr Kang.

The history of the overseas tourism industry in South Korea is relatively short. A little more than a decade ago, overseas travel was heavily restricted by the government, but now South Koreans have both the opportunity and the money to travel abroad.

The rising value of the won makes travelling overseas more attractive. In addition, travel agents are competing fiercely to offer cheap, short breaks to China, Japan and Southeast Asia. An all-inclusive, four-day trip to Japan, for example, can be had for as little as US$400 per person.

South Koreans' increasing affluence gives them the money to travel while the official introduction of the five-day working week earlier this year has also given them the time.

Increasingly, South Korean workers are taking advantage of the longer weekend to pack their bags.

'Koreans dream about travelling abroad and in future they are going to be travelling more often and in greater numbers,' said Ju Sang-yong, of the Korea National Tourism Organisation.

The organisation expects South Korea's travel deficit this year to exceed last year's record of US$4.6 billion.

For September, Korean Air reported an 11.6 per cent rise year on year in international passengers.