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Seoul to promote luxurious side of the city

With royal cuisine, Hanok stays, luxury yacht cruises and spa treatments, Seoul eyes becoming high-end tourism destination

April 25, 2024 - 17:47 By Lee Jaeeun
A view of Nostalgia Hanok Hotel, in Bukchon, central Seoul (Seoul Tourism Organization)

The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced Thursday that the city is now setting its sights on the global luxury tourism market and is preparing strategies to become one of the world's best luxury holiday destinations.

Luxury, or high-end, tourism refers to a style of travel associated with top-quality service throughout the trip. It is about more than just luxury hotels and first-class air travel. It now means visiting extraordinary destinations and enjoying authentic and unique experiences. It may encompass any of the following: private jet travel, a long vacation on a luxury cruise liner, exotic ports, enjoying an upscale safari destination, opulent hotel stays, bespoke itineraries and VIP access to cultural events. Today, younger wealthy consumers drive growth in this segment because they put experiences before material possessions, according to the city.

The size of the global luxury travel market is rapidly growing, contributing significantly to global economic growth. The global luxury travel market size was valued at 2,301 trillion won ($1.67 trillion) in 2022 and it is expected to reach $3.7 trillion by 2032, according to a research report published by Spherical Insights & Consulting.

Seoul’s tourism has long depended on China’s big spenders traveling to the country in tour groups. Therefore, it used to target more mass market travelers and those who were budget-conscious. However, now, Seoul's tourism industry is newly targeting luxury travelers who seek exclusivity and personalization for further development and sustainability of its tourism market.

Seo Won-seok(L), professor of hotel and tourism management at Kyunghee University, speaks at a panel debate on the Seoul Luxury Tourism Forum, held at the Seoul Museum of Craft Art on April 18. (The Seoul Metropolitan Government)

“We will continue to work with the domestic and foreign tourism companies to help Seoul emerge as a high-end tourism destination,” said Kim Young Hwan, Seoul's director general of its Tourism and Sports Bureau.

The city hopes to attract 30 million inbound tourists to Seoul annually by 2026, and for each to spend 3 million won and stay in Seoul for seven days, with a revisit rate of 70 percent, according to Mayor Oh Se-hoon.

The city government also held the Seoul Luxury Tourism Forum last week to explore ways to strengthen Seoul's tourism competitiveness, with 100 people, including tourism industry workers and academic experts, attending.

Traditional cuisine at Onjium (Korea Tourism Organization)

Potential elements that have made Seoul the country's capital for hundreds of years include its cuisine.

According to the city government's homepage, Onjium, a famed Michelin-starred eatery in Seoul's trendy Seochon district, offers not just food but also a journey through time with its stunning views of Gyeongbokgung. Serving a modern take on traditional royal Joseon cuisine, Onjium promises a unique dining experience. Likewise, other Michelin-starred gems like Mosu Seoul, Mingles, Kwonsooksoo and La Yeon pay homage to tradition while serving up exceptional fare.

A view of Rakkojae Seoul Bukchon, in central Seoul (Seoul Tourism Organization)

Hopping aboard a yacht is another good way to escape from the crowds and relax. Many companies run river cruises throughout the day and night, with moonlight cruises being particularly popular. Golden Blue Marina rents out luxury yachts and provides tourists with a guided tour while they sit back, relax and admire the views with a glass of champagne, according to recommendations listed on the website.

Furthermore, there are plenty of private and exclusive "hanok" accommodations where the beauty and serenity of Korea’s past meet modern luxury in Seoul. Hanok is a traditional Korean house, built and designed mainly during the Joseon era. Guests could be immersed in a serene escape that seamlessly blends traditional Korean living with contemporary comfort. Nostalgia Hanok Hotel, Rakkojae Seoul Bukchon can be the options.

A woman does yoga on the 118th floor of Lotte World Tower in Songpa-gu, southern Seoul. (Seoul Tourism Organization)

Seoul also offers other exotic experiences. One of them is yoga in Seoul's 555m Lotte World Tower, Korea's tallest building. Situated a staggering 118 floors above the city streets, the 360-degree views from up here overlook nearby Seokchon Lake, the Han River, and Olympic Park, which hosted the famous 1988 Olympics.

For those looking to experience a Korean spa that makes full use of the country’s traditional herbal ingredients, Sulwhasoo in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, can be an option. The premium skincare brand also developed the first ever ginseng-based anti-aging cosmetics, based on its philosophy of bringing ancient wisdom and practices to the modern world.

Also, Seoul is a hot spot for skin treatments, facials and cosmetic surgery. Specifically, Gangnam in Seoul is a mecca of medical tourism, with the number of medical tourists reaching more than 130,000 as of 2019, according to the city.

A woman receives red ginseng therapy at Spa 1899's Donginbi Daechi location in Gangnam, Seoul. (Korea Tourism Organization)