South Korea is emerging as a surprise travel destination for UAE residents, with tourism fast becoming the latest economic tie to bind the two nations.
The number of UAE visitors to South Korea surged last year, helped by an increase in mutual economic activity, according to the Korea National Tourism Organization (KNTO).
South Korea welcomed 2,477 UAE passport-holders, according to preliminary figures from the KNTO, up 179 per cent from 887 visitors the previous year. The figures include tourists and business travellers.
South Korea and the UAE have forged close economic ties over recent years, with a consortium from the Asian country being appointed as the master contractor for Abu Dhabi's US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) nuclear power station project. Billions of dollars worth of other industrial and investment deals have also been struck. "The economic relations between the two countries have increased a lot very recently, such as the Abu Dhabi atomic power plant construction," said Seunghyun Hwang, the regional director at the Dubai office of the KNTO. "The traffic between the countries has increased a lot."
South Korea's shopping, culture and palaces are the main attractions the KNTO hopes will lure more tourists from the Gulf region.
"We have fantastic shopping in Korea. For example, we have a 24-hour shopping district in Seoul," Mr Hwang said. Last week, a major shopping festival was launched.
South Korea recorded 8.87 million foreign visitors last year, up from 7.81 million the previous year. This growth was largely because of an influx of Chinese tourists as South Korea relaxed its visa regulations, Mr Hwang said.
The KNTO is expecting a further increase in visitors from the UAE after Etihad Airlines began flights there last month.
From the GCC, there were 8,627 visitors last year, up from 5,370 the previous year.