In preparation for the upcoming era of 10 million foreign tourists, the Seoul government is employing a variety of measures to achieve both qualitative and quantitative growth of the domestic tourism industry, a top official of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said.
"First of all, we will make a strong push for qualitative growth in the four most important sectors of tourism accommodation, guide, food, and shopping," said Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Choung Byoung-gug.
"As part of the Visit Korea Year campaign (2010~2012), the ministry will also enhance Korea's image by offering warm and better services to foreign visitors here," the Minister said in an interview with the IT Times.
"For instance, we will exert our best efforts to let sound travel culture settle down in Korea by driving out low price and poor quality tourism products and encouraging high-quality tourism goods.
"Related to this, the Ministry will strengthen standards on designation of travel agencies specialized in Chinese tourism to Korea in a bid to enhance the satisfaction degree of Chinese tourists," he said.
Commenting that we can seek the excellence of Korean culture in inclusion and harmony, Choung said, "The ministry is making efforts to promote the nation's traditional culture and the modern popular culture simultaneously to herald the excellence of the Korean culture to foreign countries."
Korea's identity for globalization of tourism culture
Korea ranked 28th in the world and seventh in Asia in inbound tourism in 2009. The inbound tourism industry has been enjoying an annual average growth of 6-7 percent.
"Key factors of Korea's inbound tourism are shopping, food, near distance, natural landscapes and economic travel costs based on the nation's peculiar culture and tradition," Minister Choung explained.
"To attract more foreign tourists, we are going all-out to build a favorable tourism image by expanding tourism content centering on Korea's traditional cultural resources and offering hospitality services to foreign tourists," said Choung.
He said that the spirit of bibimbap (a dish mixed of cooked rice with various vegetables, beef, garnishes and fried red pepper paste), which creates new one by mixing Korea's traditional culture and foreign culture, is being materialized in such Korea's modern popular culture as K-pop and drama.
"We will make doubled efforts to keep Korea's traditional culture and contribute to creating global culture through endless innovation," said the minister.
Major tourism products and events
Noting that Korean restaurants at luxury hotels are a space introducing Korean food and culture to foreign tourists naturally, Minister Chung said, "The ministry will engage in negotiations with relevant agencies to support opening of small-scale professional Korean restaurants at luxury hotels to help them provide foreign tourists with tailor-made Korean food menu."
In 2010, the ministry assisted 75 million won in interior design costs for each of the two top-class hotels - Walkerhill and Mayfield - as part of its efforts to activate operation of traditional Korean restaurants.
Asked about major tourism products and international events Korea will hold in the latter half of this year, he picked the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu in August and September, F1 Korea Grand Prix in October, UNWTO general meeting in October, and the selection of the world's new seven wonders of nature in November, among other things.
The 2011 World Athletics Championships, held biennially by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), will take place from Aug. 27 to Sept. 4 in Daegu.
It is the first time for Korea to host the event and the third time in Asia, following Tokyo in 1991 and Osaka in 2007. The organizing committee expects the event to draw about 6,000 athletes and officials from 212 countries, with 47 events (24 for men, 23 for women), and a predicted television audience of 6.5 billion over the entire event.
F1 Korea Grand Prix will be held at the international motor speedway in Yeongam, South Jeolla Province from Oct. 14-16, which will attract a large number of foreign tourists, especially those from Japan, bangkok, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
UNWTO general meeting, the world's biggest inter-government global conference related to tourism, will be held in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province from Oct. 8-14.
Meanwhile, the world's new seven wonders of nature will be selected on Nov. 11. At present, Jeju Island is included in the "A" group (1st~14th ranking) among 28 candidates.
The following are the main content of the interview with the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Choung Byoung-gug:
Q: Would you introduce the differentiated tourism Korea strategy the ministry is now propelling
A: We are now seeking diversified efforts to herald Korea's tourism resources and charm of its culture to foreign tourists. Among those, I think, "hallyu (Korean wave)," social media and experience marketing will be effective PR means.
Hallyu is the content covering the overall Korean culture, including movies, drama, K-pop, foods, fashion and shopping. Meanwhile, rapidly spreading social media such as smartphones, facebook and twitter have a merit that the distribution speed is very fast owing to its interactive characteristic.
Q: Would you comment on the level of Korea's contents in all fields, including 3D industry
A: The technology gap between Korea and advanced countries in the fusion-type contents and knowledge service field narrowed by 0.4 years from 3.1 years in 2008 to 2.7 years in 2010.
In particular, Korea's some CG technologies based on the 3D video, including digital creature and fluid simulation have nearly approached the level of advanced countries.
However, Korea's cultural technology level reaches some 70~80 percent of that of advanced countries. Nevertheless, contents R&D budget accounts for a mere 0.5 percent of the total R&D. Accordingly, the government's drastic expansion of investment in the sector is necessary.
Q: Hallyu, including K-pop, is spreading in Europe at a rapid pace. Would you explain about the trend of hallyu and a plan to persistently spread the hallyu boom
A: Until the middle of the 2000s, Korean dramas and movies enjoyed high popularity in the Asian regions. Recently, however, K-pop is winning popularity in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.
In addition, foreigners' such fever is now spreading to "hangeul (Korean alphabet)," Korean food and fashion.
To expand the hallyu boom continuously, the government will strengthen its supports for indie music to keep competitiveness of the K-pop. It also plans to build a complex hallyu experience space and the hallyu symbol space, as well as the hallyu online marketplace for development and spread of hallyu contents.
Korea IT Times is going to run a year-long series of articles on culture and tourism in Korea. This is the first one in the series.