Travel Alberta

South Koreans 'Only Live Once' in Alberta

Alberta is riding the wave of younger South Korean travellers who are taking advantage of strong economic conditions to spend on travel adventures.

Blogs and TV Shows Drive Travel Decisions

Alberta is benefiting from South Korea’s YOLO (you only live once) trend, scooping up growing numbers of young and middle-age travellers who are taking advantage of a strong economy, a strengthening won and increased air capacity to Canada and the Pacific Northwest.

While the market also continues to grow steadily for older generation South Koreans who prefer group travel, there’s been a spike in independent travellers looking for unique, experiential and themed products.

“Consumers who used to think of restraint as a virtue are taking advantage of record low interest rates and are choosing to spend money on meaningful travel experiences,” says Darlene Fedoroshyn, Travel Alberta’s Business Development Director, Asia.

Coming from one of the world’s most “wired” nations, South Korean travellers look to blogs and websites for trip planning and are influenced in travel decisions by TV shows and social networks.

Travel Alberta is reaching out to this growing market with a blog on Naver, South Korea’s top search portal, and by hosting a series of popular reality TV programs that drive travellers to destinations and attractions visited by celebrities.

Shift to Younger Travellers

South Korea is Canada’s ninth largest overseas market, according to Destination Canada. It forecasts tourists from this market will spend $314 million in Canada in 2017, with an average spend per trip of $1,431.

Outbound trips from South Korea increased by almost 30 per cent from 2015 to 2016, with a record-breaking 22.4 million travellers, says the Korean National Tourism Organization.

Global Tourism Watch estimates that four million South Koreans are actively considering a Canadian holiday in the next two years.

Young South Koreans aged 20-34 are leading the tourism charge, says Fedoroshyn, making up 40 per cent of all visitors to Canada.

The swing to younger travellers in the last three years has shifted the demographic target market. “These Millennials are looking for outdoor adventures and experiences, a great match with the product Alberta has to offer,” she says.

Supporting the growth in visitation is a 32 per cent increase in air capacity to Canada. In 2016, Air Canada and Korean Air began offering daily direct flights into Toronto, with Korean Air adding three additional charter flights into Calgary.

There is good air service from Seoul into Vancouver, with many travellers connecting to Alberta by train, bus or car. Delta’s Seoul to Seattle flight with connecting service to Calgary and Edmonton has provided additional access to the province.

All-Season Itineraries Resonate

Given strong consumer interest in outdoor experiences, Korean language hiking trail and campground information is being developed for our National Parks.

New translated Korean itineraries are also being offered to guide travellers to all parts of the province year-round. This includes Calgary hub-and-spoke options, as well as new itineraries for winter, southern Alberta and northern Alberta.

“We’ve seen good response to these packages among South Korean travellers,” says Fedoroshyn. “They are willing to consider shoulder seasons, which can provide good value.”

Travel Alberta and destination marketing organization partners in Calgary and Banff are also collaborating with more than 13 tour operators on joint marketing promotions to drive visitation to Alberta in winter, to stay in Alberta cities and go to regions outside of the Canadian Rockies in the summer months.

As part of a MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Events) strategy, Team Alberta is working on an incentive tour promotion in 2017. Travel Alberta is partnering with Calgary, Banff and Lake Louise to provide marketing support for tour operators offering incentive programs in need periods.

TV Shows Drive Consumer Choice

Given South Korea’s high levels of mobile and online usage, digital and social marketing are a priority in this market. Alberta stories are shared on social media sites such as Facebook as well as on Travel Alberta’s Naver blog.

Reality TV shows and dramas are extremely popular in South Korea and are followed by consumers throughout the region.

“Celebrities play a big role in influencing consumer decisions in South Korea,” says Kelly Self, Travel Alberta Global Media Specialist. “These television opportunities use entertainment to effectively showcase our tourism products to a wide audience, ultimately driving consumers down the path to purchase.”

In 2014, Travel Alberta supported three episodes of the MBC network program Dad Where Are We Going, which has an audience of five million. Scenes were filmed in Johnston Canyon, Spray Lakes, Vermillion Lakes, Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. Tour operator partners then promoted “as seen on” packages.

In 2015, Travel Alberta worked with a production of the comedy romance The Greatest Love, which airs on the JTBC network. Filming took place in several venues in Calgary, Canmore, Kananaskis, Banff and Lake Louise, reaching 2.5 million viewers.

Currently, filming continues on three episodes of KBS’s Battle Trip, in which South Korean celebrities explore two competing destinations — Calgary/Banff/Kananaskis and Las Vegas. This show has an average reach of 10 million viewers.

The Power of Partnership

Travel Alberta is the only provincial marketing organization in Canada with representation in South Korea. This gives Alberta an advantage to cultivate strong relations with travel trade and media in the market.

Travel Alberta is also an active member of CITAP (Canadian Inbound Tourism Association – Asia Pacific) based in Vancouver. Travel Alberta, in partnership with Alberta industry partners, host multiple business development trips throughout the year for receptive tour operators (RTOs). Doing so strengthens relationships with these important clients as they help to promote Alberta and increase the distribution of Alberta’s travel experiences through the tour operators in Korea. 

As a result of Travel Alberta partnerships, strong gains are being seen with Alberta tourism suppliers in Calgary and the Canadian Rockies.

There are many opportunities for Alberta partners to get more involved in the South Korea market. If you have an export-ready product and would like to learn how to position it for this market, contact Rhonda Reid, Manager RTO Development at

Travel Alberta