By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- Hotel Shilla's envisioned traditional-style hotel near a historic heritage site in Seoul is expected to provide a taste of Korean culture to foreign travelers and improve the city's image, according to experts and officials.
The luxury hotel chain under South Korea's top conglomerate Samsung Group won approval on Thursday from the Seoul Metropolitan Government to build a hotel themed on a traditional Korean house, or hanok, in central Seoul.
The three-story building with 91 rooms, known as a long-cherished project pushed by Lee Boo-jin, president of Hotel Shilla and eldest daughter of Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee, will be built next to its flagship hotel nestled at the top of a hill with a view of Namsan Park, becoming the first hanok hotel in the capital city.
The hotel said it will break ground next year with the goal of opening in early 2020, expecting 300 billion won (US$246.2 million) in investment.
Hotel Shilla said it will showcase the traditional lifestyle in a modern setting to attract travelers who want to get the hands-on experience of Korean culture.
"The new hotel will follow the traditional architectural style, such as wood pillars and roof, while providing full amenities for the convenience of foreign travelers in various settings," Moon Seok-jun, a public relations official at Hotel Shilla, said.
"It is expected to attract travelers not only from Asia but also from the West, as hanok has emerged as a latest trend in accommodations with an eco-friendly design in tune with nature."
The company won the approval in its fifth attempt after cutting down the number of rooms and revising the building's design to better suit the nearby area, where expansion or new construction are restricted for preservation purposes.
It is located near the Fortress Wall of Seoul, a 600-year-old stone wall that the local government has pushed for including on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Hotel Shilla said it will make a public park, walking trail and parking space for tour buses near the hotel to connect tour programs to the historic site.
Once the construction is completed, the Shilla Duty Free Shop in the existing hotel will move to the new hanok hotel, which would expand the current retail space by 40 percent. It is currently the second-largest duty-free outlet in Seoul following Lotte Duty Free shop in Myeongdong, a downtown shopping district.
Seoul city government said it gave the hotel the permit in hopes of drawing more tourists and enhancing the tourism industry.
"The first hanok hotel in Seoul will provide a differentiated accommodation facility to foreign travelers," said Lee Jae-won, a senior official at the Seoul Metropolitan Government.
"It is expected to contribute to improving Seoul's competitiveness as a global tourism city. It would also play a positive role in adding the Fortress of Seoul to UNESCO World Heritage list by improving the environment nearby."
Hanok-style accommodations in the nation have enjoyed popularity as more travelers grow fond of the eco-friendly houses built with natural materials, letting in more sunlight and air.
While small hanok guest houses have failed to attract the mass market due to inconvenient restrooms, more houses have renovated their facilities since the 2000s to cater to the growing needs of travelers.
The number of registered hanok accommodations increased to 767 in 2013 from 437 in 2011, accounting for 17.5 percent of the nation's hospitality scene, according to the tourism ministry.
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