The figures reflect a general surge in the number of travelers has translated into soaring profits for travel agencies. A spokesman for Hana Tour, Korea's largest travel agency, said 155,000 Koreans traveled abroad last month, up 21 percent compared to June last year." Mode Tour and Red Cap Tour also said outbound travel rose 13 percent and 50 percent last month.
June is traditionally a slow month ahead of the peak summer vacation season between July and August. But not any more. In fact, the number of Koreans traveling abroad has been growing steadily since the beginning of the year, setting new records every month.
"At this rate we may see a new record in the number of outbound tourists during the peak season this year," said Choi Chang-woo at the Korea Association of Travel Agents.
◆ Cheaper Travel
Travel industry insiders point to the increasing use of low-cost carriers as a major reason behind the increase. "A lot of young travelers opt for budget airlines to go on vacation," said a Mode Tour spokesman. The statistics support the observation, with passengers on budget carriers up 21 percent last year.
Other factors also fueled the increase. The five-day workweek, which came late to Korea, is now at last prevalent in most companies, meaning longer weekends. Increased flexibility in holidays for salaried workers also helps.
And as the slump drags on, a growing number of Koreans want to give themselves a treat by traveling overseas rather than scraping together pennies for the future.
Chung Soo-jin (33) travels abroad once or twice a year. "For the average worker like me, you can't buy your own house even if you save money all your life,” she said. "So I'd rather travel to as many places as I can before I get married."
The weak Japanese yen is another factor. Hana Tour said it saw a 72 percent rise in the number of travelers to Japan last month compared to June 2012.
◆ No More Off-Season
Travel agencies say there is no off season any more. In the past, most people went abroad in the peak vacation season, but nowadays airline counters bustle all year long.
"We’ve seen an increase in the number of solo travelers or small groups of friends or couples, instead of family groups," said Cho Il-sang at Hana Tour. "They travel over the weekend taking Monday or Friday off, and they tend to take their vacations in June or September, when airfares and hotels are cheaper." This guarantees a steady stream of vacationers all year round.
Hana Tour says the number of outbound travelers it handled last month was equivalent to the number it saw in July and August last year.
"Over the last one or two years, we've seen an almost steady number of travelers throughout the year," said Koo Eun-kyung at Korean Air. "So it remains to be seen whether the number of overseas travelers will really reach a new record this July and August."
At present, the number of bookings at Korean Air and Asiana Airlines from July to August remain at around the same as last year.