By Kim Eun-young and Kim Minji
The Korea Tourist Organization (KTO) on Jan. 23 said the number of foreign visitors to the country last year rose 15 percent from 2017 to 15.34 million.
In addition, the number of foreign tourists excluding those from China, which accounts for the most tourists going to Korea, reached 10 million for the first time.
The heightened mood of peace on the Korean Peninsula last year was behind the rise thanks to events like the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics and three inter-Korean summits. The number of foreign tourists had declined in 2017 due to tension with North Korea.
“As long as the Korean Peninsula stays peaceful, this trend will continue this year,” the KTO said, adding that the number of foreign visitors last year was the highest since 2016.
The KTO attributed the rise to customized tours and other programs.
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), going from a symbol of conflict to one of peace, saw growing popularity especially among Japanese tourists, leading to the launch of DMZ tours for them. In addition, K-pop concerts like those of the boy band BTS and the One Asia Festival helped boost the number of Japanese visitors 27.6 percent to 2.94 million last year.
More tourists from Taiwan and Southeast Asia also visited Korea thanks to a wider range of tourism products provided in cooperation with domestic travel agencies, such as high-end tour packages and marketing to elderly travelers.