A recent survey conducted by the Korea Tourism Organization shows that the number of calls made by disgruntled tourists in 2009 saw a 13.4 percent increase from the previous year.
Of the complaints, difficulties while shopping and disputing costs of taxi fares topped the list with 32.5 percent and 17.5 percent of the total 468 complaints filed.
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Complaints from Westerners aren't as numerous.
According to the KTO's Byun Eun-hye, who works with the organization's complaint center, the majority of the reports regarding shopping mishaps were filed by Japanese and Chinese tourists.
"We've gotten numerous calls from Japanese tourists saying they received the wrong orders such as shoes that were not the size they had purchased or custom tailored clothes that didn't fit when they received them - or even bizarre instances where they purchased a cosmetic product only to find something entirely different once they opened the box," she said.
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Some Koreans have been saying for years that foreign tourists should be expected to possess a minimum level of Korean. Others ask for better English education in the travel industry here, citing Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East as places where locals communicate with tourists primarily in English, rather than in their own local languages.
"It's difficult to say whether we are trying too hard to cater and to accommodate foreign tourists and not encouraging them more to try and speak Korean," said Kang Oki, the Korea Tourism Organization's executive director of public relations.
On that last point, The Marmot's Hole wrote:
I think phrasebooks are always a good thing to bring along when you travel — trying to communicate is part of the fun, after all, and it’s just common politeness to at least try to communicate with locals in their language — but it seems to me the KTO is in the business of making things easier for tourists (not the business of promoting the Korean language, which is the business of its parent organization, the Ministry of Culture), and that it’s in the best interests of tourism-related industries to have staff that can communicate with their customers.
I've mentioned taxis a few times on this site, mostly in regard to the foreigner-only cabs introduced last year to make travel easier for tourists, and I'll reiterate that I've found cab drivers in Korea to be friendly and patient, for the most part. With very few exceptions, their cabs are new and clean, and they don't expect passengers to tip them for doing their jobs.
I'll also bring up a little of what I mentioned on Alex's Adventures in Asia's post. My fiancee is Japanese, and walking around with her highlighted the different ways foreign customers are treated. Shopkeepers were very rarely actually rude to me, but they did have a tendency to shout English at my white face, or use baby English when it might be easier to simply speak Korean, or simpy hover beside me without saying anything. Koreans generally aren't as proficient in Japanese as they are in English, but in Busan and Insa-dong---which get a lot of Japanese tourists---it's not unusual to find clerks who do have a good command of the language. In Busan's Nampo-dong, for instance, shop employees will stand out on the street and pull Japanese tourists into the store, or shout the latest sales and specials to passersby. Adding another dimension to it is that my fiancee looks Korean: not because "all look same" to white people, but most Koreans were fooled, too. Before they learned Korean is not her native language, and even after, Koreans would often speak in Korean to her, and more often then not would exclude me from the conversation completely.
When you meet a white person in Korea, it's safe to assume they're an English teacher, and we know the stereotypes that go along with that. When you meet a Japanese person here, it's safe to assume they're a tourist and that they're looking to spend money. And, Japanese are the largest group of tourists to Korea, a big reason "complaints from Westerners [to the KTO] aren't as numerous". According to the stats provided by the Korea Tourism Organization for January, 209,184 Japanese entered the country, the most of any nationality. China was second with 91,252, all of North America had 53,839, and all of Europe had 46,509.
The KTO's English-language assistance line is 1330.