By Kim Rahn
The number of foreign visitors to Seoul has risen by 3 percent to 3.19 million for the first five months of this year from 3.1 million during the same period last year, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government Wednesday.
The increase came even after a series of incidents unfavorable to tourism such as North Korea shelling South Korea's western island of Yeonpyeong and Japan's earthquake that increased concerns of radioactive risks.
"Korea used to be an underdog in the international travel market, sandwiched between China and Japan. But it has emerged as an 'undiscovered' part of Asia, arousing curiosity among foreigners", said Ahn Seung-il, director general of the city's Culture and Tourism.
He said such growing interest has been reflected in polls or media reports ― Seoul was selected among New York Times' top 31 places to visit in 2010.
The city expects some 8.35 million foreigners to visit Seoul this year, about 5 percent up from last year's 7.95 million.
Not only the number of foreign visitors but travel expenses have also increased, rising 9 percent to $1,403 per person this year from $1,286 in 2010, resulting in 5 trillion won in spending between January and May in 2011.
In expenses, travelers spend the largest amount of money shopping, Ahn said. "The more shopping tourists do leads to development in related industries, such as clothing, food and cosmetics", he said.
To bring more travelers to Seoul, the city is planning various promotions including encouraging international travel guide publishers to write books about Seoul, holding shopping sale events during the summer and expanding the lodging available.