Locals flock to beaches, mountains
"There are plenty of picturesque spots and fresh air in South Korea." -ST
By Lee Tee Jong, South Korea Correspondent
SEOUL: Unlike in previous years, South Korean Lee Seung Chol will not need his Korean-English dictionary for his coming vacation.
The engineer, who has holidayed in countries such as Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, has chosen to take his family to his country's resort island of Jeju instead.
"It is cheaper to go for a domestic holiday, due to the high surcharge for air travel and the weak Korean currency," said Mr Lee, 40.
In July, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines increased the oil surcharge for their flights to Europe, America and the Middle East from US$280 (S$400) to US$370.
For short-haul trips to China, India and South-east Asia, the add-on fee jumped from US$124 to US$164.
Travelling overseas has also been made more expensive by the Korean won's decline of more than 10 per cent against the US dollar in recent months.
The result is a rise in domestic vacations.
At Seoul Lotte Hotel, located next to popular theme park Lotte World, occupancy soared above 90 per cent during the past few months, the peak holiday season, compared to last year's 60 per cent.
Local tourists have been thronging popular places such as Busan Haeundae Beach in the south, Mount Sorak on the east coast and Nami Island in the north.
"There are plenty of picturesque spots and fresh air in South Korea," said Ms Kim Hyun Jung, 36, an English teacher who planned to go with her friends to Kangwon province, famed for its majestic mountains and tranquil lakes.
Beachside hotels in the provinces are also enjoying brisk business.
"Previously, the occupancy rate on weekdays at these hotels was at most 70 per cent. Now it is 90 per cent," said Mr Chang Hyeong Mo, 35, an employee at Sejong Tours, a large tour agency.
The increase in domestic vacations is good news for the Korean government, which hopes to reduce the deficit in tourism dollars.
Last year, 13 million South Koreans holidayed overseas. They spent US$10 billion more than the revenue brought in by 6.4 million foreign visitors.
President Lee Myung Bak helped push the trend before the summer holiday season by asking his staff to eschew overseas tours for domestic ones.
Prime Minister Han Seung Soo, for one, reportedly said he would heed the call.
He apparently did not jet away from Korea, though the media knew not where he went this summer.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on September 06,2008.
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