The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to South Koreans' lives as the infectious disease grounded many people and encouraged them to stay away from crowded places to avoid infection. While the country's tourism sector was devastated, the camping product and service market flourished, embracing various groups of people including those who could not travel overseas and families with young children.
According to data released by the Korea Tourism Association, the number of camping grounds increased by more than one thousand over the period of four years to reach 3,280 as of 2022. 82 percent of the camping grounds were ordinary ones just for tents and 18 percent were auto camping grounds for recreational vehicles (RVs), camping trailers, and camper vans.
Gyeonggi Province, a suburban province that surrounds the capital city, had the biggest number of camping grounds with 788, accounting for 24 percent. The tourism association analyzed that the popularity of camping will continue to rise as people became fond of spending quiet and relaxing time with their families and friends in a secluded, separate place.
While the camping market thrived, the tourism market suffered a direct hit from the pandemic. The number of active travel agencies in South Korea by the end of 2022 was 20,398, 500 less than a year ago. There were 22,283 travel agencies at the end of 2019, just before the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit South Korea. According to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), some 17.5 million foreign travelers visited South Korea in 2019 and the number nosedived 94.4 percent to 967,000 in 2020.
However, the tourism market is expected to rebound starting this year thanks to the "reopening" mood. Many countries have re-opened their borders to welcome foreign tourists. The domestic tourism and accommodation industry also predicts that the number of foreign tourists visiting South Korea will increase thanks to the increased global recognition of K-dramas and K-pop songs.
According to KTO's data, a total of 913,677 foreign travelers visited South Korea in January and February 2023, up 402.4 percent from the same period last year. The increase in the number of Japanese tourists was the greatest with 66,900 people in January, up 5657.3 percent from the same period a year ago.
The increase in the number of flights and visa-free entrance policy for Japanese tourists contributed to the sharp increase in their number. Also, some Japanese tourists were high school group travelers. Tourists from China also increased. 45,884 tourists came to South Korea in February, up 173.9 percent from the same period a year ago. South Korea and China restarted issuing visas for short-term visitors, allowing travelers from each country to cross borders more easily.
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