With coastlines that exude luxury, UNESCO World Heritage sites speckled with volcanoes and the cultural phenomenon of ‘hallyu’ (the ‘Korean wave’) bringing South Korean pop culture into the Western spotlight, Korea has much to offer cruise tourists. Learak Park, Director of Cruise and Transportation at Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO), tells World Cruise Industry Review how it is reinventing tours to offer new themed excursions and passenger-tailored packages.

What are the major ports of call in Korea for cruise ships?

Learak Park: Korea has 12 ports of call in total; major ports among them are Jeju, Incheon, Busan and Yeosu.

Jeju Island, designated a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site in 2007, is a popular holiday destination, featuring the mountain Hallasan, 360 parasitic volcanoes, solidified lava flows, a vast blue ocean, oddly shaped stones and fine sand.

Busan is home to Haeundae beach, the number-one summer holiday destination in Korea, which boasts luxury hotels on a beautiful coastline, bustling shopping districts and exciting entertainment areas.

Incheon is the most frequently visited city by foreigners, as it connects them with the neighbouring Seoul, Korea’s capital. With 150 islands nearby, theme parks, filming sites and Chinatown (built during the Qing Dynasty), Incheon is a popular tourist destination.

Lastly, Yeosu is particularly renowned for beautiful scenery, created by the clear sea in harmony with big and small islands dotted around.

Overseas cruise companies and inbound travel agencies have largely dominated Korean cruise tourism until now. How will you carve out a leading role for KTO?

We are focusing on four areas to foster cruise tourism: attracting foreign tourists through marketing, developing shore excursion products, laying down the foundations for cruise tourism and enhancing partnerships with relevant organisations.

As part of our marketing efforts, we have participated in major cruise expos like Cruise Shipping Miami, and will be giving a presentation on cruise tourism overseas in Shanghai in September.

We are carrying forward various projects to develop more shore excursion programmes in Korea, such as developing quality tour products in conjunction with local authorities, holding events to celebrate new cruise launches, developing on-board programmes for cruise tourists, and hosting familiarisation tours for cruise companies and travel agencies.

We are also holding Korea Cruise Travel Marts (with one this November, in Seoul) and are currently working on plans to develop the tourism industry here in the mid-long term, to lay the foundation for cruise tourism.

Finally, we hold annual conferences to strengthen our partnerships with relevant organisations. In April, we held Cruise Tourism in Korea 2015, an international forum that took place in Seoul. In the long term, we will push ahead with projects to foster domestic cruise companies and home ports.

You mentioned developing quality tour products with local authorities. How will you go about this?

Until now, foreign travel agencies mainly sold products that focused on shopping areas and simple sightseeing in nearby tourist spots. From now on, KTO will shift the focus onto experience and themed tours. We will strengthen the close partnerships between local authorities, foreign cruise companies, travel agencies and KTO to develop quality tour products in each area.

In particular, we will use various local concepts to draw in visitors, such as the cultural experiences associated with ‘hallyu’ (that is, the popularity of Korean culture in foreign countries); shopping; festivals; beauty; local products; Tae kwon do; meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE); and medical services.

Healing, experience, history and the marine city will be the main concepts involved in tour products in Busan, while Jeju will highlight unique volcanic topography, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the island’s traditional local markets. For Incheon, Korean dramas, festivals and tours to nearby areas will be featured, while in Yeosu, the ocean railbike and Suncheon Bay Garden will be the main areas of interest.

How will you put these new themes into practice?

New products we develop will be based on activities rather than sightseeing, to encourage participation by tourists. In the case of hallyu-related products, for instance, a hallyu centre will be built near a port of call to host programmes like K-pop concerts, dance classes, autograph signing events and celebrity lookalike photo opportunities. For beauty-themed excursions, we will develop programmes for tourists to visit hair salons, skincare shops and make-up shops to experience the quality hair and make-up services in Korea.

We will tailor our tour packages to tourists’ inclinations, considering their age, the style of the tour and preferred activities, reflecting the results of our annual survey of cruise tourists to give customers the best possible service.