Influencing overseas artists and attracting a burgeoning fan base that knows no borders, it should come as no surprise that Korean pop is one of the reasons why tourists visit South Korea.
What might baffle some is how overseas K-pop fans tour South Korea once they arrive, since music, by definition, is intangible.
K-pop, however, is proving to be more than just an audio-visual experience.
When music goliath SM Entertainment opened a five-story ode to K-pop in the form of a karaoke-souvenir-entertainment venue called “e” in September 2008, the place went on to become a tourist attraction for visitors interested in the music genre.
This was three years before SM Entertainment’s Paris concert, before the press ― both local and overseas ― would go wild over what is now oft-called the K-pop phenomenon.
Within those three years, SM Entertainment’s subsidiary SM Amusement has opened four more such venues ― three gift shops-and-corners and another souvenir-karaoke stop in Myeong-dong ― all under the moniker Everysing.
“We have seen a large increase in visitors starting last year,” Everysing Operation Division supervisor Lee Dae-o said. “Last year's sales saw a 260 percent increase in comparison to the year before. Our main customers are Asian tourists, with 40 percent from Japan, 30 percent from China and 20 percent from Southeast Asia. Following the SM Town concert in Europe last year, we also saw a hike in customers from Europe and South America, who now form about 10 percent of our tourist customer base.”
|Overseas visitors check out Korean pop souvenirs at Everysing ― a gift shop-karaoke-sticker booth space run by SM Entertainment subsidiary SM Amusement ― in Myeong-dong, Seoul (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
Myeong-dong, according to Lee, was chosen as the second main venue because the area attracts tourists.
“We Googled Everysing to come and buy K-pop stuff,” said Tanja-Maria Weiringer, 23, and Esther Farkas, 22, from Austria who dropped by the Myeong-dong store on a weekday afternoon. The two are in Korea for their studies.
“I like Big Bang and CNBLUE,” said Farkas.
“I like Super Junior,” said Weiringer, who added that she was a fan of Super Junior member Kyuhyun.
“I always drag her here, but Kyuhyun’s stuff is always sold out,” said Weiringer, who has also visited other Everysing outlets.
Hiromi Kokubu, 49, who was visiting from Japan, said she read about Everysing in a Japanese guidebook and that she had come to purchase Super Junior goods.
Despite all the merchandise on hand ― framed photos, pillow cases, tumblers, to name a few ― Kokubu said, “There are not as many items as I hoped for.”
While Everysing also sells non-SM Entertainment artists’ items including those of other K-pop artists and Korean dramas, it plans to continue to expand its merchandise to encompass more K-pop and to revamp the Myeong-dong space.
SM Entertainment is not alone in the K-pop rest-and-shop business.
This April, Cube Entertainment ― home to major K-pop groups 4Minute and B2ST ― opened a cafe that also sells souvenirs.
Cube Entertainment’s coffeehouse, Cube Studio, offers fans a place to check out souvenirs, take a break, and, if the timing is right, a chance to see their favorite artists, up close and in person.
Practice rooms for Cube artists were built on the floor above the cafe, upping opportunities for customers to see major K-pop idols when they visit.
“Essentially, Cube Entertainment CEO Hong Seung-sung wanted to create a place where he could foster communication with fans and also wanted artists to have a place where they could practice,” said Cube Entertainment PR team manager An Hyo-jin.
Situated near Cube Entertainment, JYPE and SM Entertainment headquarters in Cheongdam-dong, An explained how they wanted to provide a place for fans to rest while waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite artists.
“Fans used to come and stand outside for hours on end,” An elaborated.
Liza Yunos, 27, said of Cube Studio, “Nice, fantastic, it has the best ambiance.”
Yunos, Siti Raihana and Zahirah Lyana, who were visiting from Singapore, said their plans were to visit JYPE and SM Entertainment headquarters after Cube Studio, but not before they had checked out Cube Entertainment souvenirs, including those of one of their favorite bands, B2ST.
While there, several artists dropped by, causing a stir of excitement in the cafe.
“I feel lucky to have seen an artist,” said Okada Tomoko, 30, who was visiting from Japan.
Cube’s An said, “Before there was no place for fans to go and they could only take photos outside the headquarters. Fans have expressed their gratitude for a space like this.”
By Jean Oh (firstname.lastname@example.org)