For making up for the void left by dwindling Chinese visitors, the Korean government is keen on attracting Muslim tourists to the country. Group travel ban from China is believed to be Beijing’s expression of disapproval with Seoul’s decision to deploy a U.S. missile shield that according to China threatens its security.
Hence, Muslims are now considered as an attractive alternative to compensate for the decline in tourism. Number of Muslims visiting Korea has been increasing over the years. According to date from Korea Tourism Organization, the number was 202,000 in 2001 to 980,000 last year. Many of them are from majority-Muslim Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia and the Middle East.
However, in Korea, basic infrastructure like prayer rooms and halal-friendly restaurants for Muslim visitors remains a major problem. Islamic law requires Muslims to pray five times a day in the direction of Mecca after scrupulously washing their hands and face. In countries with significant Muslim populations, prayer rooms are everywhere. But in Korea, such prayer rooms are limited, mostly located in hospitals, mosques and universities. In commercial areas there are limited prayer rooms. Airports in Korea also have limited prayer rooms for Muslims. It can also be difficult for Muslims to avail of halal food in Korea. Currently there are only 13 restaurants in Korea officially approved by the Korea Muslim Federation. The Korean government has an ambitious goal to attract 1.2 million Muslim tourists this year. For that it has plans to address the infrastructure problems and expand services for Muslim visitors.