Ophelie Cambay, an 18-year-old French tourist, looked absolutely thrilled as her long-cherished dream of attending a K-pop concert in Korea was about to come true.
The girl, from Aix-en-Provence, southern France, is one of 88 French K-pop fans who came to Korea, Monday, on a tour program, PackHallyu, organized by the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO).
The tour will take them to K-pop concerts and K-drama studios, as well as allow them to experience Korean traditional culture, during their three-week stay.
“Going to Korea among K-pop fans is really like a dream come true,” Cambay told The Korea Times during their visit to K-Style Hub in Seoul, a hallyu-themed promotion center, Tuesday.
“We always watch K-pop on the screen like YouTube, so to watch in person will be really different,” she added.
Taking into account the growing number of French people interested in hallyu, the KTO launched the tour program in 2012, attracting more and more visitors from the European country annually.
In addition, the program is now drawing extra attention as the nation’s tourism industry is seeking to diversify its customer base beyond China and Japan, to Europe and America.
According to the state-run tourism promotion agency, the number of French tourists visiting Korea has been steadily increasing for the 10th straight year, with last year’s figure surpassing 100,000. In addition, they tend to stay much longer than those from neighboring countries.
To participate in this year’s tour program, each had to pay about 1,095 euros (1.49 million won), which excluded flight tickets. But for them, most of whom are high school and university students, how much it cost did not seem to be an issue at all.
“We can make a visit to many concerts here. In France, we don’t have a lot of K-pop concerts and here are opportunities to make a trip,” said Lohanne Alvarado, another participant from the city of Tours.
Elodie Boye, a 22-year-old Parisian, said, “I think a lot of French K-pop fans want to come to Korea more than before.”
K-pop not lone selling point
As its name suggests, most of the PackHallyu participants came here to enjoy K-pop concerts and related entertainment, headlined by K-pop sensation BTS, but they are also looking forward to experiencing other elements of Korea, indicating that non-K-pop content such as food and culture can appeal to foreign tourists as well.
“I think most of French come here for K-pop and hallyu,” Alvarado said.
However, Anais Chauveau, who was an exchange student with Alvarado in Korea three years ago, said, “K-pop is also in the Korean culture, but it is not everything of the Korean culture, so we want to see everything.”
Cambay echoed Chauveau’s view.
“We are not just K-pop fans and we want to experience other cultures. So a lot of people want to come to Korea and also go to see other things,” she said.
To welcome them, the KTO held an event at K-Style Hub, during which the French tourists could cook Korean food and try on hanbok, the traditional clothing of Korea.
In particular, “japchae,” a stir-fried noodle dish, drew rave reviews from the participants.
“I liked it and want to try it after returning home,” Jenny Rousseau said.
Although Korea is still struggling to draw international tourists, compared with neighboring countries of China and Japan which enjoy tourists from more varied parts of the world, the French tourists admitted that Korea is an attractive holiday destination.
“Seoul is a really beautiful city. In Paris, it is also beautiful but it has the same architecture everywhere, but here various types of buildings are set up, which is completely beautiful,” Cambay said.
Nightlife was another distinctive feature of the nation’s tourism.
“A lot of French people enjoy life in Korea like there are always activities day and night. In France, after 8 p.m., all shops close and in Korea there are life all day long,” Boye said. “I mean this is kind of attractive for French people.”
Riding high on hallyu, the KTO is set to expand its repertoire to appeal to more foreign tourists.
“With BTS fever growing internationally, intensifying interest in hallyu has been resulting in the growth of inbound foreign tourists,” said Kim Young-hee, director of the KTO’s Hallyu Tourism Team.
“We plan to come up with more tour programs that will allow foreigners to experience popular hallyu content, Korean traditional culture and local content at the same time.”
Source: The Korea Times, KTO