SEOUL, Sept. 30 (UPI) -- South Korea's biggest K-pop bands have reached many milestones: BTS drew screaming fans on major U.S. programs like The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and topped Billboard charts for more than five weeks. Girl group Blackpink sold out tickets to its 2019 North America tour, then "made K-pop history" by performing at Coachella just two months later.
Now the Seoul Metropolitan Government is working with 10 companies to build a $500 million "K-pop arena," with construction starting next year. The 18,400-seat arena is expected to host some of the most popular K-pop acts and draw even more foreign tourists to add to record-high numbers.
"The reality is that K-pop and tourism is very much considered hand in hand," so concert tickets and plane tickets will likely sell among tourists, Bernie Cho, president of a Seoul-based artist and label services agency DFSB Kollective, told UPI.
BTS alone is a well-known moneymaker for South Korea. The boy band has an estimated $3.5 billion a year impact on the Korean economy and is believed to have brought in around about 1 in 13 tourists in 2017, according to a 2018 report from the Hyundai Research Institute.
"That's like saying Kanye West is responsible for 1 in 13 tourists coming to the U.S.," Cho said. "It doesn't make sense, but in Korea, pointing the finger to BTS actually makes a lot of sense."
The K-pop arena is set to open in 2024 and will host both foreign and Korean acts, so long as they're big enough to fill the seats. In the past, big-name artists like Madonna reportedly passed on performing in South Korea because of a lack of large-scale music venues. The K-pop arena would likely solve that problem, although a number of other large-scale venue projects are also on the horizon, including a 15,566-seat project at Seoul's Olympic Park and a 15,000-seat arena at a new casino.
"The local sort of concert venue spaces didn't grow as quickly as the market and the industry, and so the industry was really struggling with venues either being too small, too big or too old," Cho said. "With new venues or new arenas coming really soon, Seoul is going to have one of the biggest and arguably one of the best infrastructures for live music."
Much of South Korea's music scene is based in hot spots like Hongdae, but the new K-pop arena will be built in a relatively remote part of the city known as Dobong-gu, naer Chang-dong Station. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon first announced the project after visiting Saitama prefecture in Japan, where an arena sparked further city development.
"We wanted to turn Chang-dong area into a cultural district and develop the area in the future," city official Kang Kyeong-ku told UPI, adding that the arena will also hold eight movie theaters, a K-pop exhibition hall, a K-pop hall of fame and a midsize performance hall that seats about 2,000.
Outside BTS, South Korea's overall music market revenue grew 17.9 percent in 2018, all while the number of tourists rose roughly 15 percent.
"These new music venues will probably boost the tourism industry as much as it will bolster the music industry," Cho said. "K-pop has become the gateway drug that attracts more and more tourists to Korea."