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Skiing in Gangwon (photo: Korean Tourism Organization)

Skiing, Legoland and Korea’s Demilitarized Zone

The recent Winter Olympics have opened up tourism to South Korea’s Gangwon province, with new hotels, high-speed rail and attractions.

The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and recent international political developments have propelled South Korea’s Gangwon province into a growth trend, with tourism companies investing in programmes and infrastructure expansion.

The games brought, for example, the KTX high-speed rail to the quiet coastal town of Gangneung, which trains can now reach from Seoul in just 90 minutes compared to the earlier 4.5 hours.

Accessibility for the province has “improved dramatically”, Chung Man Ho, vice governor of the Gangwon Provincial Government, tells TTG Asia.

Around 2.4 trillion won (€1.86 billion) was spent on the Olympics, 1.5 trillion of which went towards a “social overhaul” – everything from new highways to street cleaning – which has “had a huge benefit for Gangwon as a whole”, he says.

Outdoor destination
The impression of nearby North Korea as a safe destination is “getting better”, claims Yoon Seung Hwan of the Korean Tourism Organization, and the tourist board is working to incorporate the Korean Demilitarized Zone into more tour itineraries.

The board is promoting Gangwon primarily as an outdoor destination through “complementary activities to skiing and more experiences using the new facilities”.

Expanding tourism attractions include facilities in the mountain regions, a marine tourist complex on the east coast, and Legoland Korea in Chuncheon, slated to open in spring 2019.

High occupancy
New hotel openings in the area, which lies close to the border with North Korea, include Wyndham’s Ramada Gangwon Sokcho, the Lakai Sandpine Resort and the Gangneung Tourist Hotel.

“Sokcho and the whole of Gangwon have received huge benefits from the Olympic Games,” acknowledges Michael Kim, Wyndham Asia-Pacific’s director for franchise operations in South Korea.

“Ramada Sokcho saw 100% occupancy during the Olympic Games, and now reports an average of over 80% or 90%. Tourism is booming in the Gangneung area too, so we have opened properties, such as in Chuncheon.”

InterContinental Hotel Group is also reportedly eyeing developments that can cater to guests such as winter sports enthusiasts.

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