South Korea Market;
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South Korea Market Profile

South Korea is the third largest outbound market in Asia in terms of visitor spending, supported by 56 nonstop flights from three airlines into two California gateways weekly. Outbound travel looks to remain strong, despite a slowing economy. California faces steep competition from shorter-haul international destinations and Hawaii, but looks to benefit from new flights into San Francisco and Los Angeles. Data updated as of February 2020.

Market Profile

$1.233 Billion
Preliminary Visitor Spending, 2019
$1.482 Billion*
Forecasted Visitor Spending, 2023
*Reflects pre-coronavirus forecast.
Market Share (U.S. Spend), 2018

Travel & Planning

Airlift (2019)

  • 59 weekly nonstop flights
  • 20,000 weekly nonstop seats
  • 2 entry points  (Los Angeles, San Francisco)


  • Average planning timeframe: 2 to 3 months
  • Average booking timeframe: 1 to 2 months
  • Tech-savvy Korean travelers research travel and book flights and hotels via mobile
  • 41.6% of FIT travelers are using airline websites directly, followed by OTAs (29.5%) and travel agencies (15.6%)
  • Peak travel months: Lunar New Year (January and February), July, August, September, October

Visitor Characteristics

Sought-After Travel Experiences

  • Local experience: Koreans want to enjoy local experiences to help understand the destination’s culture. Taking longer trips to experience a destination like a local has been growing almost two-fold every year.
  • Culinary: Of all the local experiences, Koreans enjoy culinary culture the most including street food, local cuisine, cooking classes and foodie tours.
  • Outdoor: Outdoor activities are a popular theme among FIT travelers. Diverse marine activities such as snorkeling, rafting and extreme activities such as skydiving and bungee jumping are continuously attracting more travelers.
  • Instagram-worthy experiences: South Korea has one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world, so one of the most sought-after services when traveling overseas are seamless high-speed connections. Brag-worthy local experiences are a crucial factor for highly social Korean travelers.

How to reach South Korean Travelers

  • Mobile/Digital
  • Traditional Media

Market Conditions

South Korea’s economy is the 11th largest in the world and the fourth largest in Asia. The economy grew +2.7% in 2018, and is projected to grow +2.4% in 2019. The slowed growth reflects the decline in both domestic demand and exports, the diplomatic and trade disputes between Korea and Japan and the protracted trade war between the U.S. and China. Even so, outlook for outbound travel remains positive, sparked by strong demand and supply drivers.

Competitive Landscape

Due to the large expansion of low-cost carriers, short- and mid-haul destinations such as Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan have become some of the most popular for Korean travelers. Among long-haul destinations, European countries such as Portugal and Spain are favored for the richness of local culture and experiences and relatively inexpensive travel costs compared to other long-haul destinations. Spending long breaks in Hawaii has become a growing trend, especially by Korean moms interested in helping their children learn English.

The outlook for outbound travel remains positive due to high demand for travel and the forthcoming renovation of Incheon airport in 2023. In March 2020, United Airlines will bring back their second flight to San Francisco, operating four times weekly and expanding to five in June. As of May 1, 2020, Korean Air will also add a third flight into Los Angeles, which will operate five times weekly. Additionally, increased disposable income and paid government holidays will help fuel travel growth.

Key challenges include increased competition in the market as low-cost carriers introduce new destination options, fear of safety while traveling as accidents involving firearms in the U.S. increase and an unstable exchange rate due to external factors.


  • Expedia, Consumer Insights,
  • DIIO
  • Bureau of Economic Analysis, NTTO, Dean Runyan, Tourism Economics
  • U.S. Dept. of Commerce, National Travel and Tourism Office, “Survey of International Air Travelers”, CIC Research