February 14,2018, Gangneung, South Korea - The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) has cancelled plans for a mobile prayer room in Gangneung for tourists at the 2018 Winter Olympics after strong opposition by anti-Muslim campaigners, the city tourism department's chief told Al Jazeera.
While just 0.2 percent of South Korea's population of 51 million is Muslim, the KTO decided to build a prayer room to promote a "Muslim-friendly Korea" during the Winter Olympics, which start on Friday and increase the number of Muslim tourists.
But after "strong opposition" from some groups, city officials in Gangneung cancelled the plans.
"We had strong opposition from some religious groups who opposed the installation and threatened protests during the Winter Olympics," Gangneung city government tourism division chief Kang Suk-ho told Al Jazeera.
"We sat down with them for talks, but in the end, we had to cancel the plans," he added.
Kang also said he did not expect "such an extreme backlash from the group".
"We thought it'd be nice to offer a prayer room facility at the Gangneung station," he explained, adding that he thought the opposition to the plan was "very regrettable".
Gangneung is set to host all indoor events.
South Korea has witnessed an increase in the number of Muslim tourists over the last few years. According to the KTO, a 33 percent increase was registered in 2016 compared with the year before, and the numbers reached 1.2 million by the end of 2017.
Tapping into this economic potential, the country has increased the number of Halal certificates for its restaurants and prayer rooms, and the Seoul Tourism Organization is promoting a series of videos showcasing Muslim-friendly restaurants around the capital.
A KTO press release last year confirmed one of its aims was that "the provision of travel convenience should be strengthened in order to increase their satisfaction and to encourage repeat visits".