Direct Flight Boosts Hawaiian Tourism from South Korea, As National Totals Also Climb

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by Seo Hee Chung
Honos Shrimp Truck, a popular food truck in Haleiwa, Hawai‘i, has the words “welcome” and “shrimp” in Korean on its body, as Korean tourism to the state has climbed in recent years. Image: Tournet Hawaii

To mark five years of flying between Honolulu, Hawai‘i and Seoul, South Korea, Hawaiian Airlines celebrated the anniversary by offering a chance to win roundtrip tickets. The airline has also expanded its service on the route by offering non-stop flights five days a week, up from four, and increasing the number of seats by using larger aircraft. Korean tourists to Hawai‘i have more than doubled, from around 80 thousand in 2010 to over 170 thousand in 2014. Tourists from Korea have become an important part of the Hawaiian tourism industry, with restaurants, hotels, and other amenities increasingly catering to Korean visitors.

The number of visitors from South Korea to the US overall has also been climbing, reaching 1.45 million Korean visitors in 2014, up 80% since 2007. According to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), international travel to any destination is on the rise, as 19 million Koreans traveled overseas in 2015, up from 16 million in 2014. The increase in passenger capacity on the Honolulu-Seoul route reflects the climbing demand. In total, there are 12 US cities that have direct flights from South Korea in service currently, located on both coasts and throughout the country. Incheon International Airport, South Korea’s major international gateway near Seoul, reported 14,000 flights from the US in 2015. Visitors from Korea spent over $7.7 billion in the US in 2014, including spending on tourism and education.

American tourism to Korea is also climbing. The US is largest source of tourism to Korea outside of Asia, and the third largest source of visitors overall, after China and Japan. Of the 13.2 million total foreign visitors to Korea in 2015, Americans accounted for nearly 770,000 of them. Korean cities are working hard to attract those American visitors to locations outside of Seoul. Suwon is celebrating year-long campaign to draw visitors to Hwaseong castle, a famous historical sites, and is particularly targeting visitors from the US and China. New investments by American hotel chains to increase the number of mid-range hotels in Korea are also expected to draw more Americans to places like Jeju Island.

Seo Hee Chung is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an Asan Washington Young Fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul.