Annyeong Haseyo!

You might have local channels airing dozens of Koreanovelas on TV, are able to download any piece of information about your favorite Korean stars on the internet, or have danced or listened to Gangnam Style more than you care to admit, but the only real way to appreciate the splendor that is South Korea is to get out there, see it and experience it.

Dubbed as the 'Land of Morning Calm', Korea is a treasure trove of ecological resources, heritage sites, themed and national parks, mountains, islands and beaches. Tourists also come to Korea to enjoy its four seasons: the green shades of spring, the brilliance of summer, the vibrant colors of autumn or the white blankets of winter when the country literally transforms into a winter wonderland.

"Korea is still an introductory travel market for Filipino travelers," shares Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) Manila director Sangyong Zhu. "Korea is very famous to Filipinos because of the drama series and Kpop. A number of affluent travelers have been to or heard about our capital city Seoul, Nami Island and Jeju Island. But the other destinations and tourist sites, they don't know anymore."

White Christmas, Korean style

In terms of Philippine outbound travel market to Korea, there are two peak seasons: the East Holiday season (March to April) and the Christmas-New Year holiday seasons. According to Zhu, it is now almost impossible to find available air seats to Korea from December 23 until the end of the year. "The flights are so full, it's incredible. This means there are now so many Filipino travelers, especially families, who visit Korea to celebrate Christmas and New Year," Zhu beams.

"There's no snow in the Philippines so it's really very enticing for travelers to hop on a four-hour flight to Korea to experience the quintessential White Christmas," shares Hye-Jin Jang, marketing coordinator of KTO-Manila. "The activities Filipinos love doing in Korea during winter are skiing, snowboarding and sledding in our various ski resorts in Gyeonggi-do and Gangwon-do, which are both just an hour drive from Incheon International Airport."

And after spending the whole day playing in the snow, Filipinos also frequent hot springs and spas to relax. For kids and kids at heart, Lotte World's Indoor theme park and Everland Safari are always a must-visit.

Thanks to the worldwide phenomenon that is Gangnam Style, named after the popular and über fashionable Gangnam district (which literally means 'south of the river'), KTO has been developing more Gangnam style tours and winter packages to the district referred as the 'Rodeo Drive' of Korea.

Bringing Korea to more Filipinos

To further promote Korea's winter travel packages, KTO together with the Korean Cultural Center, recently held a two-day Korea Winter Travel Fair at the Ice Skating Rink of SM Mall of Asia where popular ski resorts from Korea came over to introduce their winter facilities complete with amazing ski demonstrations. The event also intends to encourage travel agencies to promote and sell more Korean winter packages to travel buyers.

"KTO is a non-profit government agency, we're not supposed to sell our own packages so the travel agents are our true lifeline," says Zhu. "Our job is to promote Korea and make strong connections with Philippine outbound travel agents, airlines and the media. That's why we're very thankful to the Department of Tourism (DoT) especially to Assistant Secretary and Tourism Promotions Board COO Domingo Ramon Enerio III, for all his support in introducing us to the travel agents and backing our promotion efforts."

In 2011, 337,268 Filipinos visited Korea with a 13.4 percent growth rate. But according to Zhu, only 20 percent or 68,000 of the arrivals are leisure travelers, a far cry from the 1 million Korean tourists who visited the Philippines last year.

"The Philippines is the 5th tourist market for Korea and it is still growing. That's why the KTO decided to open its first office here in Manila on May 30 of this year. We want to reach out to more Filipinos in promoting our country and provide a wider range of prices to make Korea a more affordable destination for everyone," Zhu says.

From January to October of this year, 53,228 Filipinos traveled to Korea with a 19 percent growth rate compared to 44,555 arrivals during the same period in 2011. Zhu is optimistic that these numbers will double next year due to the strong economy of the Philippines and the scores of international events to be held in Korea in 2013 like the Korean Grand Prix, Korean Traditional Medicine Expo and the World Garden Expo.

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