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Tours to Gangnam bomb despite massive PR from hit song

Posted January. 08, 2013 03:31,   


David Gonzales, a Spanish tourist in Korea, had an embarrassing experience while on a tour of southern Seoul on Dec. 13.

He had booked an all-day tour for 30,000 won (28 U.S. dollars) that included visits to Bongeun Temple, Eunma shopping arcade, the street around Gangnam subway station, an aquarium, Seolleung Royal Tomb, the posh area of Garosu-gil in Shinsa-dong, Cheongdam fashion street and the Seoul COEX. He never went to Eunma and Garosu-gil, however, and no explanation was given. The tour guide also gave him no time to eat lunch.

"We entered the aquarium at 1:30 p.m., and the guide left there with no excuse," the Spanaird said. "The guide had poor English-speaking skills to the point that I could get a clear picture about Gangnam. What is needed is a quality program even if it costs more."

After Korean rapper Psy released his mega hit "Gangnam Style" in July last year, the southern Seoul district of Gangnam has attracted more foreign visitors. Tours featuring Gangnam have been slow to follow, however, as lack of tourist attractions and infrastructure, coupled with low returns for travel agencies, are being blamed as the main culprits.

Gangnam Ward Office since August 2009 has been operating a Gangnam City Tour through Cosmojin Tour Consulting. Search for "Gangnam tour" on Google and only "Gangnam City Tour" appears, meaning this is the only product that foreigners interested in the district can find online.

This is in stark contrast to the news features on Gangnam by NBC News and Business Insider of the U.S. and IBN Live of India.

Novotel Ambassador`s Gangnam branch sold "Gangnam Style Package" between mid-November and last month for foreigners, including a half-day Gangnam tour and a discount tickets for Seoul Arts Center, Lotte Duty-free Shop and COEX Mall. But sales fell far short of original forecasts. Lack of advertising meant just 50 packages were sold and just 20 visitors went on the Gangnam tour.

A travel agency source said, "Group tours generate profits from admission fees at tourist attractions and shopping malls. The Gangnam area lacks such attractions and making related products is difficult."

Another source said, "Gangnam Style is very popular in the U.S. and Europe. But most foreign travelers in Korea come from China and Japan, and they prefer the (central) Seoul areas of Gwanghwamun, Myeongdong and Dongdaemun."

Seo Dae-hoon, senior manager at the Korea Association of Travel Agents, said, "The Gangnam area has few mid- to lower-price hotels that foreign travelers can afford, and also lack parking lots for tour buses. Building related infrastructure is urgent."

To invigorate tourism in Gangnam, experts propose the construction of both traditional Korean and modern attractions representative of the area.

Lee Hoon, a tourism professor at Hanyang University in Seoul, said, "By creating Songpa District`s Baekje Museum, Mongchon Fortress and adjacent Goguryeo historic sites into tour courses while developing the streets into theme parks, the Gangnam area can turn into a place where both tradition and modern features coexist," adding, "Building a taekwondo museum at the World Taekwondo Headquarters or a Korean Wave complex centered on the entertainment industry is also an option."

In the U.S. and the U.K., may restaurants and cafes hold festivals, and Gangnam can do the same to attract more foreign travelers.

Professor Lee said, "Consumer costs are very high in the Gangnam area, and I recommend developing travel products for the high-income class instead of focusing on low-priced tour products for groups."