Harnessing K-Pop for tourism
As K-Pop lures more and more foreign travelers to Korea, the government and local entertainment companies are jumping on the bandwagon.
SM Entertainment, one of the country’s largest entertainment companies with acts such as Girls Generation and Super Junior under its label, announced last week that it had acquired BT&I, one of the largest travel agencies in Korea, as a move to increase its global content offerings.
“We’re looking to expand K-Pop’s business model to include dining, fashion, accommodation and exhibitions by building on BT&I’s original tourism, leisure and travel business,” said SM Entertainment CEO Kim Young-min in a press statement.
According to the company’s website and local news reports, BT&I is one of the top 10 travel management companies in Korea and an official partner of the world’s top corporate travel group HRG. Corporate travel clients include Bosch, BMW, HSBC and Gucci.
The first step
This isn’t SM’s first foray into the travel business.
On February 27, the company took over Happy Hawaii, a travel agency specializing in Hawaii, and renamed it SMTown Travel.
The company is also trying to build up more physical outlets for foreign K-Pop fans.
“I first became interested in Korea because of K-Pop,” said PJ Feldsine, a senior at the University of Washington who came to Korea on an exchange program. “It was my first introduction to Korean culture and people, and made me want to travel here.”
Beginning May 1, SMTown Travel will open a private lounge for customers seeking travel advice. The travel agency will be located one floor above the entertainment company’s flashy karaoke business in Apgujeong, which also features a comprehensive (and expensive) gift shop selling everything from SM-studded stationery to full portraits of Girls’ Generation and TVXQ. Visitors can try on costumes worn by SM’s idols in music videos and take photos at sticker photo booths.
The government is also aggressively continuing to harness Korean entertainment’s influence on travel.
In 2011, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) paid SM Entertainment approximately US$264,000 to stage a concert in France to promote K-Pop and travel to Korea. According to a KTO survey of 3,775 K-pop fans in France, nine out of 10 said they wished to visit Korea, while more than 75 percent answered that they were actually planning to go.
JYP Entertainment’s popular idol groups Miss A and 2PM are the current goodwill ambassadors of KTO’s official global campaign for 2012.
Titled the “Touch Korea Tour Campaign,” the KTO will pick 15 lucky winners via an online contest and fly them to Korea in June. During their stay, the winners will meet the goodwill ambassadors and embark on a “mission” together.
“We hope fans of K-Pop around the world will promote this campaign via SNS such as Facebook and YouTube, and offer an opportunity for them to visit Korea and experience it for themselves,” said Shin Pyung-sup, a representative for the tourism brand product team at KTO.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism also set up an advisory committee to hold monthly meetings to ensure the continued popularity of the Korean Wave.
We’re not sure if 19 middle-aged “cultural experts” sitting around a boardroom every month will provide the greatest advice on how to lure more Girls’ Generation fans to Korea and get them to try Korean traditional cultural experiences while they’re here. But at least they’re trying to be forward-thinking.
Also on CNNGo: Kayla Ann Villanueva: I moved to Korea for K-Pop