FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Seoul Garners Good Fortune on a Wave of Cultural Popularity

by Steve Jermanok

Jun 11, 2024

PHOTO: © DONMACDONELL | DREAMSTIME

June 2024

First came the musical mega-hit, “Gangnam Style,” in 2012, leading the band PSY to the top of the charts, only to be followed by other beloved K-pop bands like BTS. Then, in 2020, Parasite became the first non-English-language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The following year, the latest in a long line of Korean television shows or K-dramas, Squid Game became Netflix’s most watched series and the most watched program in 94 countries. Add the rise of Korean fine dining around the globe along with the demand for K-beauty products and high fashion, often influenced by the traditional Korean garb called hanbok, and you arrive at the cultural phenomenon called hallyu, or the Korean Wave. Indeed, South Korean popular culture, with Seoul at its epicenter, reached such a status Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts installed a hallyu exhibition, currently on display through July, which originated at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

The beneficiary of all this good fortune is, of course, Seoul, as more and more people want to see the city firsthand. According to TripAdvisor, Seoul is the No. 2 trending global destination in 2024, just behind Tokyo. The city received just more than 11 million foreign tourists in 2023, a 245 percent increase from the previous year but still lower than the 17.5 million international travelers arriving pre-COVID in 2019. Seoul mayor Oh Se-hoon set a goal of reaching 30 million visitors a year by 2026. He coined his exact strategy “3377.”

“We want to attract 30 million inbound tourists to Seoul annually, and for each to spend 3 million South Korean won [$2,167]. And we’d like them to stay in Seoul for seven days, with a revisit rate to be 70 percent. So that’s 3377,” said Mayor Oh.

Along with investing in new cutting-edge information and communication technology, Mayor Oh made travel a top priority, aiming to make Seoul one of the top five cities for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions. (No surprise, as Global Traveler readers perennially pick Seoul as Best MICE City in the annual GT Tested Reader Survey.) The city successfully bid for two major upcoming conferences: the 2025 International Political Science Association World Congress and the 2025 Econometric Society World Congress, attracting 3,000 and 4,000 visitors, respectively.

Later this year the city will debut Seoul Robot & AI Museum, housed in a spherical structure. A robot will greet guests upon entry, and visitors will get the chance to interact with different smart technologies, from additional robots to augmented virtual reality features. RAIM makes yet another intriguing addition to the city skyline as Seoul continues to enhance its reputation as a forward-looking city of 10 million people.

PHOTO: © PRASIT RODPHAN | DREAMSTIME

CHECKING IN WITH YOONJUNG CHO
International Media Communication, LOTTE HOTEL SEOUL

With 36 properties in seven countries, do you consider LOTTE HOTEL SEOUL your signature property in South Korea?
LOTTE HOTEL SEOUL has welcomed tourists and business guests from all over the world since its grand opening in 1979. It has a total of 1,015 rooms and 14 banquet halls for international conferences and business meetings. The hotel is a favorite among domestic and international celebrities, centrally located in the heart of the city. SIGNIEL Seoul could also be considered a signature of Lotte Hotels. Located on floors 76 to 101 of Lotte World Tower, the tallest building in Korea, SIGNIEL Seoul boasts 235 rooms, aesthetically designed with a Korean sensibility, offering panoramic views of the city skyline.

Have premier lodging choices played an important role in attracting visitors to Seoul?
We believe premium accommodations play a crucial role in attracting tourists to Seoul.

We are always trying to expand our luxurious facilities. For example, LOTTE HOTEL SEOUL opened the new La Cime luxury lounge on the 34th floor of the Executive Tower in October 2023. It’s a top-class lounge for guests staying in Executive Tower Premier rooms or higher. With this opening, LOTTE HOTEL SEOUL currently operates a total of three lounges with different concepts and targets, including Le Salon on the 16th floor of the Executive Tower and Club Lounge on the 31st floor of the Main Tower.

What is distinctive about the Lotte brand that attracts clientele?
Lotte Hotels & Resorts is the largest hotel group in Korea with a heritage of more than 50 years, and its diverse portfolio sets it apart from other hotel brands. We have the premium landmark hotel brand Signiel, classic upscale Lotte Hotels, lifestyle hotel brand L7 Hotels, business- oriented Lotte City Hotels, premium resort brand Lotte Resort and premium senior residence brand VL. Recently, L7 Hotels expanded to overseas markets such as Hanoi and Chicago, differentiating itself by providing high-end interiors, amenities and infinity pools in line with the Gen Z sensibility without losing its brand color.

With four Lotte properties in America including Lotte New York Palace and Lotte Hotel Seattle, do you see further expansion in North America?
L7 Chicago by Lotte just opened April 11, and Lotte Hotels & Resorts plans to continue its global expansion, receiving significant interest from both domestic and international markets.

DIVERSIONS
Seoul may always look toward the future, but travelers might be wise to start their tour of the city in the distant past at one of its two palaces. Both Gyeongbokgung, the north palace, and sister palace, Changdeokgung, are UNESCO World Heritage sites. If you only have time to visit one, choose the latter for its wonderfully landscaped grounds known as the Secret Garden. Changdeokgung Palace was built in the early 1400s before being burned to the ground by the Japanese and rebuilt in the early 1600s. Meander inside the large front gate to the King and Queen’s Chambers, vast halls and the King’s Kitchen. Then reserve in advance an English-speaking tour of the 78-acre gardens to see juniper trees dating back more than 300 years and majestic pavilions overlooking serene ponds.

© TEA | DREAMSTIME

Rejuvenated by nature, you’re ready to shop in the twisting streets of the city’s core at the vibrant Myeongdong district. At the countless stalls you’ll find bags and purses, trinkets related to the K-pop boys, colorful anime character socks, and bags of tasty dried mangos. Yet many visitors head to this region to stop at one of the bigger K-beauty shops like Innisfree, Skin Food or Tony Moly. This is your chance to stock up on skincare products that cost twice as much back home, from moisturizers to make-up to face masks.

Look for more high-end stores on one of the wide avenues of the affluent Gangnam neighborhood. After all that shopping, you deserve an 11-course, fixed-price meal at Michelin-starred Jungsik, which put Korean fine dining on the map when it first opened in 2009. The menu includes sweet shrimp gimbap, a seaweed-encrusted rice roll topped with shrimp; a taste of the rare geum tae fish in a tangy soy sauce concoction; and, as a main entrée, Korea’s version of Wagyu beef, Hanwoo.

INFO TO GO
International flights arrive at Incheon International Airport, about 35 miles from Seoul. Travelers can transit to the city in approximately 40 minutes via taxi, express train, airport bus, rideshare app or car rental. Public transportation proves the best way to get around once in Seoul due to heavy traffic.

LODGING
Andaz Seoul Gangnam
Known for its wonderful service and contemporary flair, working with many local artists to design the layout, Andaz lies within easy walking distance of many of Seoul’s finest shops and restaurants.
854 Nonhyeon-ro, Gangnam-gu
$$$$

Hotel28 Myeongdong
A member of Small Luxury Hotels, this 83-room boutique property, smack dab in the center of the lively Myeongdong district, is known for its cinematic vibe and spacious two-bedroom suites.
13 Myeongdong 7-gil, Jung-gu
$$$$

LOTTE HOTEL SEOUL
Centrally located across from Seoul City Hall, this 34-floor tower features some of the more spacious rooms in the city along with top-tier dining options with a view.
30 Eulji-ro, Jung-gu
$$$$

DINING
Daol Charcoal Grill
As the name implies, expect the best of Korean charcoal meat and seafood cooking right at your table. Worth the wait to grab a seat!
8-11 Myeongdong 8-gil, Jung-gu
$$$

Jungsik
Book well in advance to grab one of the coveted tables at this Michelin- starred gem, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most memorable meals of your trip.
11 Seolleung-ro 158-gil, Gangnam-gu
$$$$$

Myeongdong Kyoja
First opened in 1976 and also under the Michelin umbrella, Myeongdong Kyoja is best known for its delectable kalguksu, or knife-cut noodles.
29, Myeongdong 10-gil, Jung-gu
$$$

JUST THE FACTS
Time zone: GMT +9
Phone Code: Country code: 82 City code: 2
Currency: South Korean won
Key industries: Electronics, textile, steel, car manufacturing, shipbuilding, tourism and hospitality

COMING AND GOING
U.S. citizens must have a valid passport to enter Korea. From April 1, 2023, to Dec. 31, 2024, the Korean Electronic Travel Authorization (K-ETA) is not required for U.S. citizens for stays of 90 days or less that are for tourism or business purposes.

OFFICIAL LANGUAGE
Korean

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