LIFE&STYLE

[Weekender] Olympics, vacation home boom revitalize coastal towns

By Bak Se-hwan
  • Published : Jul 21, 2017 - 15:55
  • Updated : Jul 21, 2017 - 18:52
GANGNEUNG/SOKCHO, Gangwon Province – Gangwon Province and its coastal towns used to be the less developed and less populated in South Korea. But that seems to be changing fast. 

With accessibility from the metropolitan area greatly enhanced and expected to improve yet more in the coming months, the once laid-back coastal towns and cities are seeing a property development boom, with a number of luxury hotels, resorts and apartment complexes being erected. 

The Seamarq Hotel in Gangneung

The upcoming Winter Olympic Games is another factor behind the boom.
Gangneung, some 200 kilometers east of Seoul, is one of Gangwon Province’s biggest cities and it is also where a mountain range meets the sea. 

This city was in the midst of a construction boom, when The Korea Herald visited earlier this week, as one of the three host cities of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. 

The city anticipates a peak of 104,610 visitors a day for the sports event when it opens in February. Of them, around 60,000 are expected to look for lodgings, according to the province. 

The Seamarq Hotel in Gangneung, formerly the Hyundai Hotel Gyeongpodae, has been transformed into a luxurious two-building hotel, with prices reaching over 600,000 ($523) a night. 

The Lotte Resort in the neighboring city of Sokcho opened this week adding another luxury option for visitors. 

According to Gangwon Province, the two are among 20 new hotels and resorts already opened, soon to open or under construction close to the Olympic event venues.

“We are working to meet the demands of tourists expected before and after the Olympics. Building more hotels is one thing,” said Kang Souk-ho, head of a tourism division at Gangneung City Hall. 

“Gangneung is already the most-visited summer destination for Seoulites, beating Jeju Island and Busan. The new Seoul-Gangneung KTX train route will cut journey times from Seoul to just one hour. This will help attract more foreigners, especially Chinese tourists on day trips,” he said. 

Urbanites hoping to buy vacation homes are also driving the property market here, as evidenced by a recent spike in the number of out-of-town second-home buyers in the region. 

“Gangneung is increasingly becoming a popular choice among people looking for vacation homes or planning to invest in real estate. A majority of second home-buyers are people from Seoul’s upper-income group and corporations planning to provide the houses for their employees as part of welfare benefits. Others look at condos or high-end apartments as an investment option as construction booms in the lead-up to the Olympics,” said local realtor Hong Yeoung-ho. 

The city’s relatively underdeveloped infrastructure and insufficient accommodation for tourists are an appeal to investors betting on future development opportunities, Hong said. 

By Bak Se-hwan (sh@heraldcorp.com)