(Yonhap Feature) S. Koreans spend more on companion animals, accept them as family
By Choi Kyong-ae
SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) -- Kim Myeong-seon, a 52-year-old housewife, didn't hesitate to swipe her card last week to pay for a hernia surgery for her "beloved family member." It was not for her kids or husband but seven-year-old pet Mong.
The homemaker who has no children at home, took in Mong in 2010. The Shih Tzu is now much more than just a pet for the couple and has become part of the family.
"It took nearly 700,000 won (US$620) for the surgery (in one-off costs). Some of my friends said it was a waste of money, but it was a fair price for us because the operation brought health back to our Mong," Kim told Yonhap News Agency in a recent interview.
In this photo taken on March 22, 2017, Kim Myeong-seon, a full-time housewife, hugs her companion animal Mong at her home in Daegu, about 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, after it underwent hernia surgery last week. (Yonhap)
Kim spends an average of 500,000 won per month to take care of Mong. It accounts for about 15 percent of the single-income family's outlays.
"Mong is basically like a child, except that he can't talk. We receive the same level of reaction and love from Mong as we would if he was a child," she said, adding that the couple is able to better communicate with each other because of their dog.
In a country where 1 out of 5 people live with a pet, she represents the growing number of people who regard companion animals -- largely dogs or cats here -- as a member of their families.
Kim spends much more on her companion animal than many others who usually spend about 150,000 won a month for their pets, according to the Korea Consumer Agency.
The trend is expected to get stronger on the back of higher incomes, increasing single-person households, rising number of double incomes and the so-called Double Income, No Kids with a Dog (DINKWAD) families. The rapidly aging population is further fueling this trend, according to the Korea Kennel Club.
The group DINKWAD, a twist on the word dink, refers to a couple with two incomes and no children.
"Some of the young couples began raising dogs as children as they think raising children is too expensive. The trend won't likely change, resulting in more adoptions of companion animals," a representative of the nonprofit organization said.
Given that 4 out of 10 South Korean households will consist of one person in 2050, local demand for companion animals is expected to grow rapidly in the next decade, the official said, citing data from Statistics Korea.
In this photo taken on Aug. 4, 2017, two employees at the PETEL Premium Suite, a hotel built for guests and their pets in Busan, 453 km south of Seoul, trim the hair of dogs as part of pet services. (Yonhap)
In this photo taken on July 15, 2016, a group of dogs greets their owner at a pet cafe in Suwon, 46 km south of Seoul. (Yonhap)
On top of demand for companion animals, pet-related businesses are expected to benefit from the trend, which is picking up speed as the country's childbirths fell to a record low last year.
The total fertility rate, or the number of babies that a woman is projected to have during her lifetime, fell to 1.17 last year from 1.24 a year earlier, according to Statistics Korea.
As an increasing number of people want to eat, play and travel with their companion animals, businesses such as coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and beauty shops are stepping up efforts to gain a share in the burgeoning pet business market.
With Pet, a homegrown pet business, was quick to respond to the emerging trend. Last year, it opened PETEL Premium Suite, a 10-story hotel that allows guests and their companion animals to stay together and offers a variety of services for pets.
The rooms at the suite in the southern port city of Busan, 453 kilometers south of Seoul, range from 77,000 won to 300,000 won per night, depending on the services for pets, a front desk employee at the hotel told Yonhap by telephone.
"We have received a favorable response from those who have taken their companion animals out on a trip to Busan. They really liked our hotel's services," she said.
In this photo taken on Aug. 4, 2016, and provided by With Pet, a dog sits on a bed for pets offered by a local hotel in Busan. (Yonhap)
In this photo taken on Aug. 4, 2016, and provided by With Pet, dogs look out from their enclosures at a local pet hotel in Busan. (Yonhap)
Large discount store chains, such as Emart and Lotte Mart, operated by conglomerates Shinsegae Co. and Lotte Group, respectively, have not been idle in capitalizing on local interest for pets. They have taken steps to attract customers who want to bring their pets to their stores.
They opened hotels and playgrounds inside their outlets to allow customers to leave their pets in the facilities while shopping for "reasonable" fees, according to the companies.
"Shoppers can leave their pets in our facilities for 10,000 won per four hours until they return from shopping," an Emart spokeswoman said.
South Korea's companion animal care market is expected to expand at a significant pace in coming years, according to a think tank under the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation.
The report forecast the market will reach 2.9 trillion won this year and 5.8 trillion won market in 2020, helped by soaring demand for food, medical and cosmetics services. The projected market size looks very small in comparison to the 70 trillion-won U.S. market.
"As companion animals are loved by various age groups, the demand for customized products and premium care services will likely grow at a fast pace," the spokeswoman said.