Following the lead of Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore, South Korean officials are scrambling to create a new gambling hub surrounding Seoul-Incheon International Airport designed to capitalize on the burgeoning middle class of China. The area’s latest tourism project is an expected $4.6 billion integrated resort complete with a new casino, shopping mall and hotels that can serve as a one-stop vacation destination. According to Lim Byung Kee, an official at Incheon International Airport Corp., proposals to build the facilities are expected to come later this year.
With preliminary plans already in place, the airport project could be completed as soon as 2019, according to officials. The resort project is expected to be developed on an 809 acre plot of land adjacent to the airport’s second passenger terminal. As with the vast majority of Korean gambling halls, the new casino will be available exclusively to foreign visitors.
“We have benchmarked Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore for the integrated resort project here,” Lim said. “We want to attract more visitors from China, taking advantage of the close distance.” Incheon Airport is a short, two hour flight from both Shanghai and Beijing, putting it in prime position to draw gamblers away from established destinations such as the Philippines and Singapore. The Asian gambling market is, in many respects, more open than ever before, as China’s anti-graft campaign forces bettors to look for alternatives to the world’s largest gambling destination, Macau.
It will be very important to make integrated resorts into attractive landmarks to bring in tourists, like what was done in Singapore,” said Song Hak Jun, a professor in the hotel and convention management department at Pai Chai University. “It can’t just be about casinos.We don’t want to just focus on high rollers, but we also want mass consumers to visit the integrated resort,” Lim emphasized. “We want to use the resort to help create more traffic into the airport.”
In recent years, South Korea’s government has approved the construction of multiple casinos and integrated resorts in an effort to boost its tourism numbers, particularly from Mainland China. According to data from the Korea Tourism Organization, officials expect to draw 10 million Chinese visitors a year by 2020, which would be a 63 percent increase over last year’s figures.
Investors are optimistic about the gambling possibilities of the area surrounding South Korea’s largest airport. Three integrated resorts are already under construction in the locations near the country’s capital of Seoul, which is located approximately 32 miles east of the Incheon airport. Last March, the country’s first foreign-owned casino, a venture between Caesars Entertainment Corp. and Lippo Ltd., was approved.
Incheon International Airport had the ninth highest international passenger traffic in the world as of 2013, with service to 194 destination cities. With an estimated 41 million passengers annually, the tourism potential for the area is nearly limitless. As gambling hubs around the continent continue to chip away at Macau’s dominance of the gambling industry, Seoul has positioned itself as a destination to watch for the foreseeable future.