Traveling to Seoul but Feeling at Home: Seoul and Seoul Tourism Organization provide host family services for visitors

At the end of November, 200 newly registered families were inputted into the guest-host online matching system for the Seoul Global Family (SGF) initiative, a home-stay program organized by the city of Seoul and the Seoul Tourism Organization (STO) that connects visitors to the city with Koreans eager to serve as hosts and guides. The program was launched in time for an expected large influx of foreign tourists during “Visit Korea Year” 2010-2012.

The SGF program was developed to provide not only a more meaningful stay for tourists, but also to encourage cultural exchanges. Rather than staying in conventional accommodations such as hotels, hostels or motels, the SGF program allows visitors to stay with Korean families, affording them a first-hand experience of Korean culture and society.

The procedures involved in applying to become a host in the SGF program include a background check, an inspection of the applicant’s household and a final evaluation by the program’s operating committee. After passing this initial process, hosts go through customized training sessions provided free of charge by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Seoul Tourism Organization. This training program was designed through Sookmyung Women’s University for the purposes of providing residents of Seoul with a more open mind towards foreign cultures.

The SGF program has been well-received so far. From July 21-30 last year, the World Vision International Children’s Choir Festival took part in the SGF program, arranging for 30 participating children to stay with registered hosts. One host family reported that they felt a familial connection with their guest and a sense of parental pride during the festival’s performances. The host family also said that their involvement with the program helped them to become more comfortable around foreigners and left them with fond memories.

Visitors from China and Japan have been showing particular interest in the program. This month, 58 students from an international high school in Japan stayed in Seoul for a school excursion through the SGF Program, through which they were able to learn about cooking and other facets of Korean culture. Beyond this, a variety of guests from these countries have stayed in Seoul through the SGF program.

This year, the city of Seoul and the STO have set a fixed price and established additional benefits for those who choose to enroll in the program. With subsidies from the city government, foreign visitors can avoid additional fees and pay only the actual cost of boarding. Prices have been set at around 40,000 won per night, or a 600,000 won monthly rate. For guests who come in groups, starting at two, an additional 28,000 won is added per night (monthly rates are the same per person). The operators of the program also responded to concerns about a possible shortage of accommodation for foreign guests during Visit Korea Year, providing travel agents and tourism-related organizations with information on the SGF program so they could present it as an option for visitors.

Numerous improvements have been made to the program, including the addition of new ways for tourists to enjoy themselves during their home-stay. A multilingual website (Korean, English, Japanese, Simplified and Traditional Chinese) opened in the beginning of December, through which guests can conduct a search of the registered families based on their specific preferences. The site was designed to simplify enrolling in the SGF host program, offering reservations, which must be made at least 10 days in advance, and online payments.

Further enhancements to the program include a greater range of options for participants, such as cultural exchange programs tailored for children, students and the elderly. Furthermore, the city of Seoul and the STO have engaged NGOs, volunteer organizations, government bodies and other agencies in the effort to create an “SGF experience event.” Also starting in 2010 is the “home-stay academy,” a free service that provides specialty tutoring services for tourists, a kimchi-making seminar with foreigners and other ways through which guests can experience Korean culture. The Seoul Tourism Organization is also offering 13 free walking tours for guests and hosts to enjoy together.

Applications to become an SGF host were made available at the end of October. Application forms and procedures can be found on the Seoul City website (, the Seoul Tourism Organization website ( and a stand-alone website ( For more information, please contact the Tourism Service Team of the Seoul Tourism Organization at +822.3788.0859.


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