TAIPEI ― Back in 2004, Taiwanese people saw a swarm of travel agents promoting the so-called "Daejanggeum" tour named after the then popular South Korean drama, in their brochures and advertising leaflets.
In Taiwan, the popularity of Korean dramas reached its height during late 2003 till early 2004 while the "Jewel in Palace" (The English title of the above drama) was airing.
Although "hallyu" or the Korean wave is waning, Taiwanese fans' pilgrimage to Korea continues.
Professor Kuo Chiu-wen of National Chengchi University (NCCU) in Taipei said that in the early 2000s, many Taiwanese tourists visited Korea because of the drama or to see pop idols.
Kuo claimed that the trend is shifting and that Korea still remains a popular tourist destination for Taiwanese not because of dramas, but because of its trendy fashion, cosmetics and food.
"I think it is time to redefine hallyu (as the term was used to refer to only either dramas or K-pop)", she said.
Inbound tourists from Taiwan to Korea marked approximately 310,000 from January to September this year. Last year, the number jumped to 380,628, its highest since 2005.
Considering that only some 80,000 Taiwanese tourists visited Korea annually in the late 1990s, the recent figures indicate a sharp increase.
Compared to this, approximately 140,000 Koreans traveled to Taiwan from January to August this year.
Industry experts noted that the popularity of Korean pop singers and dramas was behind the tourism imbalance.
Seven years have passed since the Jewel in Palace first aired in Taiwan.
Hsieh Ting-yu, a research assistant of the Taipei-based Cross-Strait Interflow Project Foundation, said hallyu is "waning in Taiwan but still popular".
"I watched a lot of Korean dramas when I was in college and really liked them", the 28-year old told The Korea Times.
Hallyu had an effect on her choice of major, as well as probably her career. Hsieh majored in Korean Studies at the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.
She still tries to pick up more expressions and terms by taking a course once a week.
"(Taiwanese fans) think Korean singers, such as Girls' Generation
and Super Junior, are good-looking, dance well and their songs are catchy", she said.
Hallyu has a different effect on Emma Chen, another fan.
The 33-year old, who now works with an international forwarding company, drops by a nearby Korean restaurant, dubbed Korea House in downtown Taipei, every week to eat Korean food.
Her attachment to Korean food has continued since September when she returned from the United States after completing a two-year master's program in business administration at New York University.
Chen saw the latest-released Korean drama, "Sons of Sol Pharmacy", three times.
Asked if she could think of anything that would be evidence of the popularity of Korean dramas or pop icons, instead of giving a direct answer Chen pulled out her smart phone.
Immediately after she touched the screen, her cell phone emitted a Girls' Generation
The Korean girl band's song topped the list of songs in highest demand among bloggers who download music to cell phones that are Internet connected.
Waning of hallyu
Professor Kuo of NCCU defined the year 2000 as the year marking the onset of the Korean wave in Taiwan.
Actress Song Hye-kyo
rose to stardom here after her drama was aired that same year.
Kuo, who earned her doctoral degree from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul after completing her dissertation on hallyu, is now teaching a hallyu and Korean cultural content course to her students at NCCU.
The professor said that her hallyu course has received positive responses from her students.
Despite the popularity, Hsieh from Cross-Strait Interflow Prospect Foundation observed that the Taiwanese favorable attitude toward Japanese culture is still preponderant.
Compared to Japanese culture, she added that the influence of hallyu is limited in overall society.
Asking not to be named, the owner of the Korean restaurant, Korea House told The Korea Times that she agreed with Hsieh when it comes to the impact of the Korean wave.
"I have seen some people visiting my restaurant to taste Korean cuisine before they travel to Korea. These people are Korean drama fans and decide to visit Korea after watching the dramas", she said.
"But the number of Taiwanese who like Korean culture is, I think, smaller than those who like Japan. I think this is probably because the pro-Japanese atmosphere is quite dominating here".
Fans cross border for idols
Although hallyu is waning, its legacy still lives on here.
A range of hallyu derivatives, including tourism and Korean food, continues to draw the attention of the Taiwanese. The number of hallyu tourists to Korea still outnumbers South Koreans travelling to Taiwan.
The so-called "celebrity marketing" played a part in encouraging hallyu pilgrimages to Korea from Asian nations, including Taiwan.
Earlier, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) announced it would provide support for actor Lee Byung-hun
's gatherings with his Asia fans, especially Japanese fans. Lee is especially popular in Japan.
The KTO also launched a tourism promotion video featuring the male actor in an endeavor to attract more Japanese fans.
Tailored short films and brochures targeting fans in other parts of Asia and Europe were produced, as well.
The star marketing appears to have worked as the number of Japanese tourists increased this year. According to the tourism board, a record high of nearly three-million Japanese tourists visited Korea from January to September this year. The figure is the highest annual figure over the past six decades.
These hallyu pilgrimages appear to have inspired Taiwan. This year, the Taiwanese government mapped out a similar tourism promotion strategy.
The Tourism Bureau of Taiwan kicked off an ambitious campaign with a country-specific strategy.
Targeting South Korean and Japanese tourists, the bureau called upon popular Taiwanese boy band, Fahrenheit, to pose for their promotional brochures and meet with Korean fans.
The four members of the band are particularly popular in Japan, a staffer of the Taiwanese tourism board said.
The four good-looking male singers posed for various advertising materials to promote Taiwan's tourism.
The boy band has worked with the tourism board as goodwill ambassadors for three consecutive years, according to tourism board staff.
Winnie Wu of the international affairs division of the Taiwanese tourism bureau, told reporters in early November that tourism was one of the six emerging industries in Taiwan.
As middle-aged Japanese fans increasingly cross borders to meet their Korean idols, journalists were curious about the driving force of their enthusiasm.
Akira Iwase, managing editor of Asia News Office of Japan's Kyodo News Agency, has watched such hallyu pilgrimages in person as a friend of his wife is one of the enthusiastic Japanese fans flying Korea to meet her young idol.
"Frankly, to me, it's a bit weird to see that my wife's 51-year old friend traveled to Korea because of her favorite young Korean male actor. But I think her enthusiasm for her idol will be ok as long as she is faithful to her husband and keeps trying to be a dedicating mom", Iwase told The Korea Times.
Russell Emerson, Australian journalist of The Advertiser, said it was understandable for people to embark on a trip to foreign nations to see celebrities.
"There are certainly a group of people who would follow their idols. I think it is actually a very general cultural trait", he said.
"(In Australia), there will be people who follow bands from city to city, because that is the way of the world".
Emerson said hallyu pilgrims ― by mostly housewives in their forties and fifties ― are people just following a different style of life by acting on their enthusiasm.
Hallyu: 대만 관광객들의 "한류순례"
한국드라마 대장금의 성공적인 방영 이후 한국을 찾는 대만 관광객들이 늘고 있는 가운데, 한국을 방문하는 대만관광객들의 관광 동기가 변하고 있는 것으로 나타났다.
한 한류전문가는 과거에는 한국 드라마나, 영화, 가수로 인해 한국을 "순례" 하는 팬들이 많았으나, 대만에서 한류가 식어가면서 대만관광객들은 음식, 패션, 그리고 화장품 등을 구입하기 위해 한국을 방문하고 있다고 분석했다.
90년대 1년 평균 10만명 미만을 기록했던 대만관광객은 2004년경을 전후로 급증 작년의 경우 380,000여명으로 최고를 기록했고 올해 1월부터 9월까지 한국을 방문한 대만 관광객 수는 310,000여명에 이른다.
대만에서 한류는 일본 드라마나 음악에 비해 아직 열세인 것은 분명하지만 고정적인 팬을 가지고 있다고 현지 사람들은 밝힌다.