The Korean pop music or K-pop phenomenon is undoubtedly one of the hottest tunes across the international music scene today. K-pop’s rocketing popularity, a result of unbelievably good-looking and charismatic stars, catchy beats and sleek dance choreography, is evident from the hordes of delirious fans ranging from pre-pubescent teenagers to middle-aged housewives with their grey hairs masked by dye — and the alarming rate at which fan groups are multiplying.

Increasingly and interestingly, K-pop is the glowing spark to a genuine desire to understand more about Korean culture, relieving some of the heavy responsibility Korean drama serials once had (cue music from Winter Sonata). From another perspective, there’s a somewhat symbiotic relationship — knowing the language, customs and lifestyles of the Koreans help fans to better understand and ’communicate’ with their idols; in other words you can be someone who enjoys K-pop, or you can be SNSD’s #1 fan.

The Korean Cultural Centre (KCC) in London, for instance, recently kicked off its K-pop Academy, a 12-week course that aims to help K-pop fans get a better understanding of the history and culture of Korea. To enhance participants’ experience, the immersion programme involves a mix of lectures, hands-on lessons and meetings with Korean representatives. The KCC is hoping the academy will help the UK centre become a hub for K-pop in Europe, its director Won Yong-gi told the Korea Herald in February.


And its efforts to groom foreign “leaders” in Korean culture may very well pay off. Tamanna Sidika, one of the 30 selected for the inaugural run and the class representative and whose interest in the country grew out of Korean dramas eight years ago, shared with Quotient that she has enjoyed every session to date and was “thankful” for the many activities including a Korean cooking class, a K-Pop dance class and meeting with a Korean Ambassador. Another member of the cohort, Chloe Pavlou, said the course is fun and yet uses the participants’ love for K-pop to impart an “amazing amount” of knowledge about Korean culture. Pavlou revealed that she and her course-mates are very motivated to win the mystery grand prize for the top performer, noting that there is a “competitive tension in the air all of the time”.

Going K-pop places
The opportunity to boost tourism via K-pop is also not lost on the travel industry, although its full potential is yet to be realised. Tour agencies in countries such as Singapore have begun organising group tours for K-pop fans to catch major concerts in South Korea; higher tourist arrivals to South Korea from Indonesia have been attributed to K-pop. And according to an Oct 2011 blog post in hellokpop.com, an entertainment portal dedicated to the music genre, there is an increasing number of foreigners making K-pop pilgrimages, spending some part — if not most of — their holiday hanging around talent management agencies to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars.

Over at the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), K-pop artistes have been roped in to be the tourism board’s ambassadors. An ongoing campaign features bands 2PM (above, top) and Miss A in a promotional video to introduce and promote different sightseeing locations in Korea. KTO also helps to promote K-pop related events organised by provinces and other public organisations. To date, there are two concerts listed on its website for 2012 — the International Peace & Life Festival in Chuncheon (Gangwon-do) on 19 May and the Hallyu Dream Concert in Gyeongju (Gyeongsangbuk-do) on 22 Sep.

According to statistics provided by the KTO Singapore office, the number of tourists to South Korea who indicated they were visiting because of drama or movie filming, fan meetings or concerts spiked to an estimated 198, 581 in 2010, from less than 145,000 in 2008 and 2009. All figures derived were based on actual tourist arrivals and a survey sample size of nearly 12,000 each year, noted a KTO Singapore spokesperson.

Other than being a tourism catalyst for the homeland of K-pop, countries hosting K-pop concerts also benefit, as more and more fans travel overseas to support their idols. Pearl Blue Singapore (PBSG), a fan club of K-pop sensation Super Junior, reported that the group has organised trips to attend the boy band’s concerts in Malaysia for two consecutive years, with 50 to 60 members travelling each time. While it boils down to the individual’s time and budget, PBSG members have travelled to other Asian countries including Taiwan and Japan, and there is also interest in heading to further destinations such as Paris where Super Junior had a concert earlier this month, shared a spokesperson.

Editor’s note:
Interested to catch the Peace and Life Concert in Chuncheon and at the same time do some sightseeing in South Korea but don’t wish to be stuck in a group tour? Take a look at our South Korea independent packages or contact us today to find out more about our customised Korean experiences. Limited tickets for the concert are available and will be offered on a first-come-first-served basis.