SEOUL, Korea - The number of foreign tourists visiting South Korea this year is expected to top the landmark 10 million later this week for the first time on the back of rising Chinese and Japanese tourists, government data showed Sunday.
A total of 8.44 million foreign tourists visited South Korea between January and September, up 19 percent from a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). The number will likely reach 10 million on Wednesday as some 1 million was added to the tally in October.
KTO expects the country to have a total of 11.3 million foreign visitors for all of 2012, compared with 9.79 million last year.
The number of inbound travelers has grown an average of 15 percent for 33 years since it exceeded 1 million in 1978. It topped 5 million in 2000 and surpassed 7 million in 2010.
Industry insiders said that a surge in Chinese and Japanese tourists contributed to the rise.
More than 300,000 Chinese have visited Korea every month from July, with a growth rate of 30 percent on-year.
The number of arrivals from Japan also surged 19.5 percent from last year.
"A boom in hallyu based on K-pop led to the sharp increase in the number of foreign tourists to South Korea," said an official at the KTO. "And Korean tourism agencies offer diversified tour packages to overseas customers."
Hallyu, or the Korean wave, refers to the popularity of South Korean TV dramas, pop music and films abroad.
The KTO said it plans to hold a celebration for the 10 millionth foreign tourist to South Korea at Incheon International Airport, the country's main gateway.
"Surpassing 10 million in foreign travelers is a landmark occasion for Korea's tourism industry," said an official from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.