Seoul City attracts tourists from Southeast Asia

By Jung Min-ho

The Seoul city will offer more language services as part of an effort to attract more tourists from Southeast Asia.

According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG), Monday, it plans to add at least three more languages ― Thai, Vietnamese and Malay ― to information boards at popular attractions.

The move comes as China pressures Chinese travel agencies to cancel trips to Korea in retaliation to the planned deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system here.

Starting with setting up new information boards in Itaewon, the city will spend a total of 250 million won ($220,000) on the project. The boards are expected to be placed also in Dongdaemun Market, Hongik University area and Bukchon Hanok Village.

The city government also plans to test run guide machines that can better help tourists with more detailed information on the surroundings.

According to the city’s tourism marketing department, the ratio of tourists from Southeast Asia increased 40.4 percent last year to 2.83 million. With better and more tailored services, officials expect the number will continue to soar.

“The new boards are not just for providing more information. We want them to feel more welcomed here,” an SMG official said.

While the number of Chinese tourists has decreased recently over the anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, a travel website shows Korea is becoming more popular among Southeast Asian tourists.

According to Skyscanner, Seoul was the second-most searched destination among independent travelers in Singapore last year ― and fourth-most in Malaysia. Also, an increasing number of Filipino travelers look for information on Seoul and Jeju Island.

The central and local governments are trying to find ways to offset the decrease of Chinese tourists, the biggest contributor to Korea’s tourism industry.

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