Scenes of Hong Kong tourists scooping up make-up products in department stores in Seoul are commonplace. Thanks to the popularity of Korean pop songs, beauty and fashion brands, and the Korean government's initiative in developing tourism products, including wedding photography tours, the country has become a hot holiday destination for Hongkongers.
According to the consul general of Korea in Hong Kong, the number of Hongkongers visiting Korea last year rose to 229,000, a near 6 per cent increase from the previous year. The number of Koreans coming to Hong Kong reached 891,000, a 43.9 per cent jump from the year before.
The Visit Korea Year Campaign, from last year to the end of 2012, has been tailored to meet the needs of Hong Kong tourists. This year, major events include the IAAF World Championships and Korean Formula One Grand Prix in Taegu, the Hallyu Dream Festival in Gyeongju and the International Fireworks Festival in Pusan.
Educational tours are also on the rise. 'To enhance mutual understanding by facilitating exchange between young people and create employment opportunities, the Korean and Hong Kong governments signed the Working Holiday agreement last year,' says Deputy Consul General Shin Chae-hyun. There are 118 flights between the two countries each week.
The economic relationship between the two communities thrives as much as the cultural bonds. Korea ranks seventh in the world's export market, leading the field in LCD, semi-conductor chips and shipping. To Korea, Hong Kong is a well-developed trade outpost and a springboard to promote its business opportunities into the Pearl River Delta and within the mainland.
'Korea and Hong Kong are each other's sixth largest trade partners, and trade has reached US$27 billion,' says Consul for Commerce Park Jae-young.
The strategic importance of economic co-operation has increased thanks to the mainland's growing demand for goods and services, the trend for the yuan's internationalisation, and the establishment of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between Hong Kong and China, he adds.
'Hong Kong's influence as an offshore centre for yuan cross-border settlement is increasing. As a gateway to the Chinese market, its strategic importance has been enhanced,' Park says.
Consul for Finance Kim Jung-woon says the Korea Financial Supervisory Commission works closely with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority in global finance. In 2006, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to share data, hold joint audit meetings and run employee exchanges. 'Korea has initiated close co-operation with international finance enterprises. There are now 28 Korean financial companies, including 11 Korean banks and 12 Korean security firms, that have established their regional offices in Hong Kong,' he says.
On the humanitarian side, the consul general of Korea in Hong Kong presented prizes earlier this year to Korean companies, Samsung and Woori Bank, acknowledging their voluntary work at care centres for the elderly and orphanages in the city, and their dedication to the needy in Hong Kong.
'Through hosting seminars and events on corporate social responsibility, the consul general [works towards] deepening collaboration between Korean and Hong Kong companies, enhancing the awareness of the [former to contribute] more to the city and people of Hong Kong,' Park says.
Meanwhile, Shin says Korea and China have upgraded bilateral relations to the highest level of Strategic Co-operative Partnership through the joint declaration made by President Lee Myung-bak and President Hu Jintao in 2008.
The declaration not only confirmed the importance of the relationship, he adds, it laid a foundation for the future of the strategic partnership between the two countries, as next year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties.
'Korea and China share cultural commonness in many aspects with geographical proximity. China is Korea's largest trading partner, its bilateral trade with China has exceeded US$200 billion, and there are more than 6 million people visiting each other every year,' he says.