Every year, millions of Koreans travel internationally for a variety of reasons. Despite there still being a decrease in international travel from the figures recorded before the covid-19 pandemic, there has been an overall shift in the preferences for Koreans regarding their favourite and least favourite countries, as well as their choice if they were to be born again in a different country. In this article, we shall explore the reasons for these preferences towards and against international destinations in addition to the historical sites, unique experiences and cultural affinities that have captivated Korean tourists in recent years.
Favourite & Least Favourite Countries
In February of 2023, the ‘Spring 2023 Global Survey’ was conducted within South Korea. This survey consisted of 1,501 participants aged 19 and above giving their personal preferences for countries that they liked and disliked. The aim of this survey was to be able to accurately determine Koreans’ preferences for countries other than their own. The results from this internal survey showed that the United States emerged on top with 22% of Koreans’ considering the United States as a country they considered favourably. Following the preference for the United States, Switzerland and Australia tied at 11% as Koreans’ second favourite country. Canada was third at 9%, and several other countries globally followed, showcasing a wide range of personal preferences regarding other nations.
Regarding the least favourite countries, Koreans have consistently considered China their least favoured country in global surveys conducted since 2003. In terms of this, the 2023 showed little difference statistically, with China topping this list with 34%. This was followed by Japan at 24%, and North Korea at 17%. The preferences for favourite and least favourite countries varied dramatically across the different age groups participating in the survey, with younger demographics showing stronger dislike towards China, while older age groups expressed more distaste towards countries such as Japan and North Korea.
Potential reasons towards a country’s popularity within South Korea
In another survey conducted by ‘Gallup’ last year, it was also noted how preferences for different countries varied dramatically among Koreans across different age brackets; shedding light on changing attitudes towards various nations over the years and showcasing evolving trends in international preferences among Koreans. Countries that have proved increasingly popular with Koreans have shown to have been influenced by factors such as education, tourism, economic ties and cultural exchange programs. Compared to the results shown by the same survey in 2012, there has been little change in the overall rankings of the main countries liked and disliked by Koreans. However, since the first survey’s results were conducted, there has been an increase in Koreans mentioning visiting countries previously not featured according to the data provided.
Each country that has had a large percentage of Korean visitors have had so for very different reasons. Some of the countries featured on this list are revered for their unique attractions, whether of cultural, natural or of historical significance. This fluctuation is shown to be the result of an individual’s personal interests, a country’s marketing efforts, global events, media, and ever changing trends in travel shown on social media. As the era of social media ever expands; people are generally exposed to more content and the media advertising of countries that they may not have previously been to; indicating an increase in travel by the younger generations. Due to this, countries rarely frequented by Korean travellers have seen a sky rocket of interest as people feel more informed about new destinations and thus, more attracted to visit.
Interest by Continent:
Japan is still a very popular destination for many Korean tourists each year. Despite the two countries’ differences, Japan’s proximity and cultural appeal has enabled it to maintain its top position in Asia among Korean travellers. Every year, thousands of tourists visit Japan during spring to see the famous cherry blossoms and to experience the traditional heritage. This is due to Japan offering a blend of tradition and modernity in a truly unique way that has caught the attention of many.
Despite China being ranked as the least favoured country by Koreans each year, China’s historical sites, such as the Great Wall, and its fusion of ancient heritage with modern life consistently attract a percentage of Korean travellers each year due to geographical proximity and shared historical connections.
In recent years, there has also been a shift in many Koreans now wanting to visit other Southeast Asian countries. Countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore have had a sudden increase of interest from Koreans; resulting in them being more present then ever before on country related surveys. These Southeast Asian countries offer diverse experiences that appeal to Korean tourists seeking a mix of cultural attractions and natural beauty.
India has also been climbing the ranks in terms of it’s popularity with Korean visitors. With its rich cultural heritage, historical connections, and economic growth, India has had a recent influx as it appeals to South Koreans seeking diverse cultural experiences, spirituality, and business opportunities.
Europe has generally maintained its appeal with Koreans since surveys were first conducted in the early 2000s. As European countries have had stable popularity, destinations such as France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and Germany have all established their own unique charms that have continued to captivate Korean travellers each year. Many of these destinations offer a range of cultural & historical experiences as well as interesting tourist locations, resulting in these countries advertising their unique charms to a Korean audiences.
Scandinavian Countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland often pique the interest of Koreans due to their high quality of life, innovation, and unique cultural elements. South Koreans may find these nations appealing for their advanced technology, design, and natural beauty.
Although Russia is not a common travel destination for many people in recent years, South Koreans have a growing interest in Russia from various survey results. This rise in interest is shown to have stemmed from historical ties, shared cultural events, and newfound curiosity about Russian culture.
Lastly, Nordic Countries such as Iceland have proved increasingly popular with Korean tourists due to its breathtaking natural wonders, including geysers, glaciers, and the Northern Lights; making it an ultimate destination for those interested in nature and adventure.
The United States has proved continuously popular according to Gallup’s findings, with 1/5 of Koreans ranking the States as their most desired country. The United States remains a sought-after destination for Korean tourists as the American life and landscape is so wide and varied. Many locations across the United States are well known for their iconic landmarks and cultural experiences in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Las Vegas. In addition to this, the United States has consistently marketed itself as a hubbub for education, business and culture, resulting in it being an appealing place for many people fascinated by American culture.
According to the ‘Spring 2023 global attitudes survey’ carried out in 2023, the interest in America by Koreans has grown exponentially since records in 2003, going from an interest of just 46% to up to 89% in recent years. This increase has been generally consistent with only the presidential elections impacting figures. During 2023 records show that interest in the United states fell to 59% before recovering in 2021 with a score of 77%. As well as the United States, Canada has also retained its appeal to Korean travellers. Destinations such as Toronto and Vancouver have become famous among Koreans for their picturesque landscapes, multicultural cities, and outdoor adventures.
Within South America, Brazil is known in Korea for its vibrant culture, especially in music and dance. Brazil has been able to attract South Koreans interested in experiencing its lively atmosphere, carnival festivities, and its diverse natural landscapes.
Australia over the years has built up a reputation with Koreans for its quality of life. With a highly praised education system, natural landscapes, and close ties with South Korea, Australia has maintained its position as being a preferred destination for many types of students and tourists. According to the 2023 data published by the ‘Australian Bureau of statistics’, roughly 100,000 Koreans reside in Australia. This number is expected to rise with the rates of both tourism and long time visas almost doubling since covid-19.
Similar to Australia, New Zealand’s outstanding natural beauty and friendly relations with South Korea have also made it a hot spot destination for many South Koreans; especially those seeking outdoor sports activities and picturesque landscapes. Both Australia and New Zealand has proved much more popular with the Korean ‘over 40’s’ market; with statistics from Gallup suggesting that the diverse wildlife and peaceful surroundings make these locations popular with those looking to retire or change their careers.
Within the continent of Africa, South Africa has proved to be an attractive destination for South Koreans interested in adventure tourism and unique cultural experiences. The allure of wildlife safaris, cultural diversity, and scenic beauty make South Africa and other countries within Africa popular for those wanting to experience unique outdoor experiences in a completely diverse climate. In addition to South Africa, the historical significance of ancient Egypt and its iconic landmarks like the pyramids often draw South Koreans interested in history and archaeology to visit and explore Egypt’s cities. Although destinations have not yet shown popularity with Koreans for long term residency according to their national statistic records, the percentage of Korean visitors has increased- with many people being interested in Africa’s natural landmarks.
Survey Results: ‘If you could be born again, which country would you choose’
In a Survey recently also conducted by the ‘Spring 2023 global attitudes survey’, Koreans were asked the following question ‘If you could be born again, which country would you choose to be reborn in?’ With the following results compared to the same study done back in 2001:
Without extended reasons requested it can be difficult to know an individual’s reasons for they answers but over time statistics have shown a general trend of approximately 50% of Koreans wishing to be reborn in Korea again if given the choice. The ranking for the countries following 1st place have remained the same despite their statistics generally decreasing. This can be attributed to the interest increasing over time for other countries not previously considered by a Korean market. The age breakdown behind this ranking showed that the older generations of Koreans were more prone to wish to be reborn in Korea again while younger Koreans were more open to experiencing all that life can offer from being born in a different country if they had the choice.
The evolving landscape of global tourism reflects the diverse preferences of Korean travellers, spanning continents. The data shows that Koreans now feel that international life & travel is more accessible than ever before and that visiting new countries can be driven by cultural connections and unique experiences. Understanding the travel preferences of Koreans provides valuable insights into the evolving trends in international travel and cross-cultural exchanges. Ultimately, these preferences towards and against different countries show the different attitudes and advancements in the modern world. We hope that from the information provided in this article that you will have a greater understanding of the travelling preferences of South Koreans.