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[MICE TREND] K-pop Shaking Things up in K-MICE Industry & Inbound Tourism - Impact of K-pop and Its Fans


K-pop's endless release of new and upcoming artists following Gangnam Style

Global fans work as driving force of tourism despite COVID impact

Mid-to-long-term development initiative needed amid K-pop's anticipated yearly economic return worth trillions of won

that the Sustainability of Seoul as a global MICE destination depends on K-pop and fans


In August of last year when the world was still under the influence of COVID-19, a festival which brought together audiences from all over, regardless of race or nationality, was held at the LA Convention Center and Arena in the United States. Although travel restrictions in some countries remain in place, the festival saw almost 90,000 visitors. It was also joined by 7.08 million viewers from 176 countries online. During the three-day run of the festival, a myriad of articles vividly describing the excitement and vigor of visitors were published by nearly 100 media outlets around the world in real time. The name of that very festival was KCON 2022 LA, a K-pop festival hosted by CJ ENM. The fact that it was held in person after a three-year hiatus was enough to raise the expectations of K-pop fans and the organizers tried to live up to these expectations with various experience programs.


The K-pop frenzy that stood strong even against COVID-19 continued on this year with K-pop mega band, BTS, marking their 10th anniversary. The resulting influence of K-pop and K-culture, appropriately summed up as hallyu (lit. Korean wave), to the tourism and MICE industries driven by the resumption of travel and normalization is anticipated, as well.


K-pop, generally speaking, refers to Korea’s pop music genre. The term started to be used in the 1990s but recently took on the use of a proper noun, meaning a cultural phenomenon that encompasses pop star group performances and music with that of global fandom. Even make-up style and fashion, seemingly unrelated to music, are included in what is labeled as K-pop. As K-pop becomes globalized, popular music affected by Korean culture or Korean style is considered to be part of K-pop even though it is not necessarily sung by a Korean singer or written in Korean.


Attracting the largest scale of global fans in the history of K-pop, BTS is regarded as a presence that has completely overhauled the K-pop market for nine years since their debut in 2013. According to the analysis of the Hana Institute of Finance conducted in last June when BTS announced its temporary hiatus from group activity, the economic impact of BTS clearly shows that K-pop has now grown to an independent industry. The analysis found that during the hiatus annual sales of BTS-related products are expected to decrease by as much as 500 billion won in albums and tour-based profit, in addition to 250 billion won in merchandise profit, amounting to a staggering 750 billion won..


Other research has shown that one-year activity of BTS brings about four trillion won of the average annual economic impact in domestic production, including tourism, distribution, art, and more. According to a recent article of Chosun Ilbo, a 1% increase in BTS’ popularity will lead to a 0.45% growth of inbound travelers after three months, and the average annual number of overseas travelers who visit Korea due to K-pop reaches 796,000. This translates to the sheer fact that K-pop is driving the trade and tourism industries, going beyond the respective borders of the music industry.


YouTube views are another significant factor that indicates the global popularity of K-pop. As of June, PSY’s Gangnam Style (approx. 4.8 billion views), Blackpink’s Ddu-du Ddu-du (approx. 2 billion views) and BTS’ Boy with Luv (approx. 1.6 billion views) are firmly securing their position in YouTube’s Billion View Club. The Pinkfong's Baby Shark Dance, which set the Guinness World Record for the most viewed video on YouTube, has recently surpassed 12.9 billion views. All these achievements would not be possible without the unique and catchy melody of K-pop songs alongside stylish artist performances that appeal to international fans.


Fandom is what makes K-pop work as an independent industry in a coordinated way. The Korea Foundation announced that K-pop fandom annually creates significant economic profit, reaching more than eight trillion won as of 2020. Lee Yoon-kyeong, a researcher of Korea Foundation, said that the fandom of K-pop artists are not merely supporters of their stars, but they are evolving themselves into a sort of fusion that unifies fan and consumer ("fansumer") and/or fan and innovator ("fannovator"), both of which are capable of establishing a new business model. Core fandoms mainly consisting of college students and other younger crowds are willing to purchase the products advertised by their favorite K-pop artists and visit cities, places, restaurants, and cafes that also have some sort of connection with them.


Some analyses argue that K-pop and the fandom culture would have had a significant impact on the tourism behavioral intention of overseas visitors. Tourist behavioral intention simply means the possibility that people turn the image or idea of a certain tourist spot they had into an action, which is travel in this context. In this regard, the result of the 2021 Potential Inbound Traveler Survey conducted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Korea Tourism Organization, which surveyed 30,000 men and women aged over 15 residing in the top 21 countries by inbound arrivals to Korea, is highly timely and relevant. According to the survey, 15.1% of respondents answered that they want to visit Korea because there are many cultural and experience programs they can enjoy, so far as it relates to K-pop and/or hallyu. The effect of previous experiences in Korean culture on the willingness to visit Korea was much higher among those who were willing to visit Korea (76.2 points) than those who were not (52.2 points). K-pop has elevated Korea’s image to that of country where tourists are not only willing to visit, but also feel the need to do so.


Last year, it was very common to see that those who visited Seoul to participate in international conferences arriving prior to the event in order to take a short trip around the country while trying some of the food, going sightseeing, and taking photos and videos to send to their families. Some people even brought a long to-do list that was essentially curated by the content of K-pop music and K-dramas.


The focus of tourism and MICE policies of Seoul has been shifted in order to reflect the needs of domestic and international K-pop fans. The Seoul Convention Bureau (SCB) has recently held various events related to hallyu content at the IMEX Frankfurt, such as the Chimaek Festa, Squid Game event, and ppopgi (dalgona candy) game, attracting visitors across the world. Backed by enthusiastic support and active participation from audiences and buyers, the SCB is planning to organize similar events in the upcoming ITB Asia and IMEX America.


A recent upsurge of incentive tours held in Seoul is displaying how influential and impactful K-pop and K-culture have become. According to the SCB, the number of incentive tours supported by them was only four last year before soaring to 131 in the first half of the year. A SCB official remarked saying, "Global interest in hallyu has recently expanded to Seoul, which is backed by the fact that the number of incentive tours held in Seoul skyrocketed."


On June 16, Seoul, both a K-pop shrine and selected as the world’s best MICE destination in the post-pandemic era, was awarded the “Best Leisure Destination in Asia” in the Leisure Lifestyle Awards of Global Traveler. “Continuing the global popularity of hallyu, including K-pop, is making the global audience focus on Seoul as a 'destination for tourism and MICE', ”said an STO official. “We will continue to strive to identify the needs of foreign tourists from what they do and eat to where and how they stay, and work to serve them and provide the best tourism experience that we can."





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