Got airport down time? Take a tour

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Got airport down time? Take a tour

For Hoh Suk-do, 32, a recent business trip to India was also a chance to take a free tour of Singapore. Having to transfer flights at Singapore’s Changi Airport, Mr. Hoh was able to take advantage of a tour provided by the airport for bored passengers with time to kill.
“I had to kill several hours at the airport lounge for the next flight anyway,” said Mr. Hoh. “So I thought I might as well give the city’s program a try.”
Such tours for passengers in transit are also available at Korea’s Incheon International Airport. It may not be free ― prices vary, but start at $5 ― like Changi as yet, but variety is what the Korean airport hopes to emphasize instead.
“We already have seven kinds of tours and six more will be added next month,” said Kim Gi-hong with the transit tour team at the Incheon International Airport.
For passengers wanting short trips, he recommended going sightseeing to an island or a temple nearby, while those with more time on their hands can go on an extended tour of Seoul and even to the Demilitarized Zone.
Sounds pretty exciting? Foreign transit passengers agree, according to the airport’s own survey, though admittedly few passengers have so far signed up for the tours. Incheon first launched the program in December, 2004, but as of April this year, the number of foreign transit passengers to have take the tours was a mere 6,500, an average of eight people a day.
Although the airport says it considered its transit tours a “bonus benefit” to bored passengers who don’t want to loiter in the lounge, Mr. Kim agrees the tours have not been as popular as they were expected to be.
“Even for a short tour, passengers still have to go through the same immigration processes as those who are entering the country for a longer period,” he said. “Unless they go through that process, they can’t leave the airport building.”
The airport estimates that each foreign transit passenger spends an average of 5.1 hours in the airport. If the passengers decide to apply for the service, they usually spend about two hours of that in immigration, leaving and re-entering the airport. Then there are another two hours of driving back and forth on the highway; the airport is located far west of Seoul. This leaves passengers little more than an hour to hop out of the bus for a quick look around, a reason why airport administrators say they need to introduce a greater variety of tours that can be done nearby.
One of the tour programs the airport is soon coming up with is the “five-dollar tour” for travelers with little time and a tight budget. The tour goes to the nearby Yonggung Buddhist temple, which was built 1,300 years ago, during the Silla kingdom.

by Lee Min-a

The service is available at the transit tour desk at the arrival terminal. Those without a Korean visa must follow the same immigration rule as ordinary travelers. Sixty-one countries have visa exemption arrangements with Korea, and even those from countries that do not can still enter the country temporarily, if they have a visa for the United States, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Canada.
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