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'Hallyu' Brings New Travel Trend to Korea

2006/02/23 | 226 views | Permalink | Source

By Bae Keun-min, Reuben Staines
Staff Reporters

You know the feeling: The place seems strangely familiar even though you have never been there before in your life.

Some might say this deja vu is a connection to your former life, but a more pragmatic answer is that you've seen the place in a film or TV drama.

Although many people would pass by these places and feelings with little thought, film lovers and TV drama junkies are increasingly seeking to kindle these feelings of deja vu by visiting the locations and sets to recall the cinematic moments that touched their hearts.

The phenomenon is known as "set-jetting", a play on "jet-setting", where people plan trips abroad to visit the locations and sets of their favorite movies and dramas. The growing trend has become a new source of income for the travel industry worldwide.

While films and books have long inspired travel adventures, the trend has become increasingly noticeable as international travel has become more affordable and convenient.

New Zealand is probably one of the greatest beneficiaries of set-jetting in recent years, following the success of the "Lord of the Rings".

According to research from Halifax Travel Insurance last year, more than one in four Britons chose holiday destinations as a result of reading about them in a novel or seeing them in a movie or TV series. About 30 percent said they had considered visiting New Zealand after seeing its natural scenery in the fantasy film trilogy.

The number of foreign tourists to the South Pacific nation totaled 1.6 million in 1999 before the first film was released, but the figure soared 47 percent to 2.37 million in 2005, according to the Tourism Research Council of New Zealand.

"We are sure that there have been many people who have come to New Zealand subsequently who have been attracted by the exposure to New Zealand through the trilogy", Jane Coombs, New Zealand ambassador to Korea, told The Korea Times.

"Some come specifically to look at some of the places that appeared in the film. Some come just because New Zealand has been put into their consciousness through the film. We don't have any figures on the numbers of tourists who have come as a direct result of the films, but certainly there has been an impact", she added.

Set-jetting Hits Korea

South Korea is also benefiting from the set-jetting trend due "hallyu", the Korean Wave, a term coined to describe the rising popularity of South Korea pop culture around the world but particularly Asia.

Foreign fans of such TV series as "Jewel in the Palace (Dae Jang Geum)" and "Winter Sonata" are set-jetting their way to South Korea, contributing to a rise in inbound travelers.

The number of inbound tourists reached 6 million last year, according to the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). An estimated 1.2 million were set-jetters, up from 1.12 million in 2004.

"The nation's tourism industry is estimated to benefit by some $1.07 billion from the hallyu travelers in 2005, and the figure is growing steadily", a KTO official said.

One of the most popular destinations is the Dae Jang Geum Theme Park, a film set for the 2003 drama that has been or will soon be broadcast in over 35 countries.

Since opening in October 2004, the theme park has attracted over 189,000 visitors.

"Japanese tourist numbers are on the rise as the drama has just begun its airing there, while those from Hong Kong and China, who used to be the major group to the venue, are steady", the official said.

Nami Island, a location for romantic scenes in the 2002 soap "Winter Sonata", drew the largest number of set-jetters in 2005, with more than 295,000 people visiting.

More recently, early set-jetters especially from Japan have been busy booking trips to Cheju Island to see Asian heartthrob Bae Yong-joon, the hero of "Winter Sonata", and the set for his new TV series, "Taewangsasingi" ("The Legend"), the story of Great King Kwanggaeto of the Koguryo Kingdom.

Although the set has yet to be completed and filming scheduled to start on Feb. 28, some eager fans want to take a look at the preparations, according to production company Kimjonghak Production.

The state-run KTO has been promoting some 60 filming locations from famous TV dramas and flicks on its Web site ( Open the link ) since 2004.

"Although we are not directly involved in any hallyu tour products, we are assisting travel agencies or production companies when they run these kinds of packages and arrange related events such as fan meetings", the official said. "We plan to continue this assistance".

White Elephants?

That TV drama and film sets have lured in millions of tourists is no fluke. In fact, production companies and broadcasting stations have been planning sets for that purpose since 2000.

In the hope of attracting tourism income, local governments hosted and invested in sets, especially those for historical dramas. Some 31 sets have been built in 26 cities and counties, with the investment of regional governments totaling 49 billion won.

However, after the popularity of the dramas subsides, numbers of travelers to the once popular destinations often dive, leaving local governments with a headache over what to do with the development projects.

The set for the 2000 hit drama "Taejo (the first king of the dynasty) Wang Kon" in Chechon city, North Chungchong Province pulled in 1.18 million people the year the series screened.

The city government poured in 1.22 billion won, but the location was forgotten as soon as the series ended. With the props and decorations removed, the buildings now stand empty and abandoned.

Production companies and broadcasting stations are not interested in the sets after the end of the drama. Sometimes, changes in the management of local governments or policy changes lead to the maintenance of the facilities being neglected.

"Local governments need to host sets harmonizing with the regional characteristics and devise long-term plans", said Jung Kang-hwan, a professor specializing in tourism event management at Paichai University, Taejon. "Success rests on development of durable programs such as creating packages with adjacent travel attractions".

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