An estimated 2.82 million Koreans have traveled overseas for their summer holidays this year, the highest number on record. Cheap flights and falling hotel prices mean the days are gone when Koreans saved up for months to go on vacation somewhere in their own country.
Office worker Kim Sang-min (28) recently went to Hokkaido, Japan for three days. He flew by budget airline from Incheon and booked the round-trip tickets two weeks in advance for W230,000 (US$1=W1,129).
There he paid W133,000 for a four-star hotel in Sapporo. On his first day in Hokkaido, Kim spent W200,000 on food and lodging. "Public transport costs more than in Korea, but food was cheaper," he said.
Compare the cost of a holiday in Busan and Da Nang, Vietnam. The ticket from Gimpo to Busan costs W166,000 and the flight from Incheon to Da Nang W383,000.
A four-star hotel room on Haeundae Beach would set travelers back W169,400 a night but in Da Nang only W70,000. Two nights easily make up for the difference in air fare.
"Budget your trip," a website that compares expenses at travel destinations around the world, shows the average cost of traveling in Korea at W119,000, compared to W129,700 for Japan and W45,300 for Vietnam.
Other drawbacks to holidaying in Korea are persistent rip-offs and a lack of decent mid-priced options. Kim Young-joo at the Korea Tourism Organization said, "Prices rise during peak vacation season all over the world, but this is especially a problem in Korea because the peak season is so short."
In Korea, summer breaks are concentrated in late July and early August, and according to a survey by the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, 62.5 percent of workers go on vacation during the two-week period.
Food and lodging options in Korea are concentrated at both ends of the scale, with almost nothing in the middle. Lee Yoo-hyeon at the Korea-Thailand Communication Center said, "You can easily find anything from guest houses to six-star hotels in Japan and Thailand, but in Korea, there is a shortage, especially of mid-priced options."
The overcrowding in Busan, on the east coast and Jeju Island in peak season is another factor turning travelers off. Kim Sang-jo at Hanyang University said, "Japan and Vietnam have developed a great many tourist destinations over time, and they compete with each other to keep prices reasonable."