Home Tourism South Korean TV shows make Croatia a popular tourist destination

South Korean TV shows make Croatia a popular tourist destination

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Koreans finding love and adventure while traveling through Croatia on reality TV shows have put the Balkan country on the map, making it a popular tourist destination for the Asian market.

It all started in 2012 with the filming of the South Korean series Romanticfeaturing Koreans in their 20s and 30s visiting Croatia’s highlights, from the capital Zagreb to the beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park and the UNESCO World Heritage site Dubrovnik on the Adriatic coast.

It became a perfect TV commercial for visiting Croatia. “Ultimately, the romantic search of a group of young Koreans for love in several Croatian destinations has become a great advertisement for our tourism,” says National Tourism Board President Ratomir Ivicic. South Korean television later produced another reality show called Noonas on flowers – noonas meaning older sisters – in which several well-known Korean actresses backpacked through Croatia.

“It had a huge impact on the popularity of Croatia and on improving the knowledge of our country,” says Ivicic about the shows broadcast in 2013-2014.

Last year, more than 252,000 South Koreans visited Croatia, about five times more than in 2012.Noonas on flowers has firmly placed Croatia on the map for South Korean travelers,” said Cho Il-Sang, spokesperson for the country’s largest travel agency, Hana Tour.

The entire Eastern European region was inaccessible to most South Korean travelers due to the lack of direct flights and short vacations.

“But the TV show changed all that… Croatia is becoming one of the most promising travel destinations for South Koreans visiting Europe,” adds Cho.

Tourism accounts for about 15 percent of Croatia’s gross domestic product, or about 7 billion euros (28.79 billion dirhams) per year. For the first nine months of 2014, official figures show that tourism brought in 6.7 billion euros, 2.5 percent more than the same period a year earlier.

In 2014, Croatia welcomed more than 12 million visitors, triple its 4.2 million inhabitants. Although tourists mainly come from Europe, Croatia has also turned its attention to Asian markets.

Late last year, Tourism Minister Dario Lorenzin visited China, Japan and South Korea to promote the industry.

Most Koreans stay for 12 days and also visit neighboring countries – Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic or Slovenia.

Park Do-hyeong first heard about Croatia while watching Romantic and became interested in the country. “The people are nice, you feel safe and it’s not expensive,” the 29-year-old says of a recent visit to Zagreb.

Korean tourists have also sparked new services in Croatia and more business links between Zagreb and Seoul.

Last year, Kim Seoung-hoon opened a hostel for Koreans in the Croatian capital, the first in the Balkan region. At the entrance to her Love Croatia hostel in downtown Zagreb, there is a giant map on the wall pinned with destinations – all the places featured on reality TV shows. Guests at this 27-room property are Koreans only. “It’s a family-style hostel where people feel close, comfortable and can eat a Korean meal,” says the 30-year-old owner.

The idea to start his business came to him when he watched popular Korean TV shows. “I realized it was a really beautiful country,” Kim says. It also has ambitions to expand its Korean-only hostels to Split and Dubrovnik.

Other companies have also spotted opportunities related to product placement on television shows.

Croatian brewery Zagrebacka Pivovara, which has about 45 percent of the market, signed a deal with South Korean company CKB in October to export a popular beer sipped by the stars of Noonas Over Flowers.

“We were inundated with emails from South Koreans interested in Ožujsko beer,” says export manager Marko Turicic.

So why this fascination with this particular Balkan country?

Croatia was chosen for the TV shows because it is a little-known destination in Korea and a place with “beautiful landscapes and cultural heritage”, according to producer Na Young-suk – the perfect setting for his film. Noonas on flowers.

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