Lee, who has been in his new position for just six months, is already reporting a strong outlook on 2010. According to Lee, Korea sidestepped the travel troubles that plagued most of the world. Its numbers were up 14 percent, with 610,000 tourists coming from the U.S. Expected numbers for 2010 travel are around 680,000 American tourists.
The major challenge in maintaining these numbers at this point, is the economy and the fact that much of the country's infrastructure is still young. Travel expenses are hefty but this is due to the fact that there is still not enough competition in Korea's travel industry. There are approximately only 70,000 hotel rooms available throughout the country, and its limited number of five-star accommodations are always booked at 80 percent occupancy.
The remedy? Korea Tourism Organization has launched a campaign called Visit Korea 2010-2012, organizing special tours of the country as well as a host of events under the themes of culture, ecology and the ocean.
Korea is also working on joint-marketing campaigns with both the Japan National Tourism Organization and the China Tourism Organization, working on building long-distance markets. This proved successful in 2002 with the marketing of the World Cup, which was held in Korea. Lee was unable to say when these campaigns will take off but plans are in the works.
Airline connectivity is also being improved. Up until this point Korean carriers could not stopover in Inchon without a massive price increase. Now the KTO is working to make it so that travelers flying from the U.S. to other Asia locations can stopover in Inchon without facing a spike in price. The KTO is expecting five million people to transfer in Inchon in 2010.
"My personal conviction is that Korea is the next happening destination in world travel," says Lee.