An ambitious state campaign to attract more than 10 million tourists to Korea will be the main focus of the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) next year, KTO chief Lee Charm said, ahead of the campaign’s official launching ceremony on Nov. 11 in Seoul.
“The underlining theme of all of our major projects will be the 2010-2012 Visit Korea Year’ project,” the KTO president said during a recent interview with The Korea Times. “We will send promotional teams to Japan, China and Southeast Asia and will design hallyu events and festivals to disseminate our efforts.”
In an attempt to become a tourism superpower in Asia, Korea has launched a “Visit Korea Year” initiative once again. The last was held in 2001-2002 when Korea co-hosted the World Cup finals.
“Through a successful campaign, we hope that the nation’s tourism revenue will reach over $10 billion and that Korea will enter the list of top 20 countries in a survey of tourism competitiveness,” Lee said. Currently, it is ranked 31st in the 2009 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) compiled by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Japan has already shown a keen interest in the campaign. Ahead of the domestic launch, it recently promoted the Visit Korea 2010-2012 campaign at the Tokyo Dome with more than 40,000 participants.
The campaign, first announced last year, is promoted by goodwill ambassador Kim Yu-na, the 2009 world champion in ladies figure skating, and Korean actor and superstar Bae Yong-joon.
To bring more professional expertise to the campaign, a special committee has been set up and Lee serves as its vice chairman. The committee is led by Lotte Group Vice Chairman Shin Dong-bin. The committee’s main responsibility is to promote the merits of Korean tourism to visitors from outside the country, particularly the 2012 Yeosu Expo and the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Daegu.
Korea has been an underdog in the field of tourism, not because it lacks reasons to visit, but because of the lack of tourism infrastructure, Lee said.
“The particulars of the TTCI showed that Korea lags behind its Asian neighbors in terms of affordable accommodation and convenient facilities.” Foreign tourists often have complained that it is simply too expensive to travel in Korea and that the lack of English signs outside the capital has made it hard for them to travel, he said.
The TTCI ranked Korea 102nd in terms of price competitiveness in tourism, meaning that it is more expensive to travel in Korea than it is in Japan, which ranked 86th.
However, Korea was ranked relatively high in the quality of cultural assets and resources, ranking 13th, slightly ahead of China, which ranked 15th. It has been Lee’s belief that this should be the main focus of the promotional drive for Korean tourism.
In this connection, Lee said during a recent parliamentary inspection of the KTO that he would place priority on traditional culture rather than natural beauty or architecture, which are not Korea’s strong suits.
“As shown in the TTCI figures, there is not much difference in how our cultural assets are perceived by the international community, in comparison to those of China or Japan. We will work with the government to improve the tourism infrastructure and develop travel resources that are distinctively Korean,” Lee said.
He has stressed that Korea’s spiritual uniqueness and historical richness could be promoted as compelling reasons to visit Korea. “We will try to promote our cultural performances, food, Buddhist traditions, taekwondo, and city project, to name a few, as tools to lure visitors to Korea.”
“Koreans have innate qualities of energy, joy and affinity. Combining such qualities with the stories behind our cultural assets could be a good marketing strategy for Korean tourism,” he added.
Another important goal of the KTO is to promote domestic tourism with fresh ideas to urge Koreans to travel around their own country.
“It is important to attract foreign visitors to Korea. But the more pressing task is revitalizing the intra-bound travel, without which we could not fully expand our tourism infrastructure,” Lee said. Since 2006, the KTO has been conducting a campaign to introduce hidden travel destinations in all provinces.
Lee is a firm believer that the tourism industry could become the backbone of the Korean economy in the future. “We will do our utmost to nurture Korea as a tourism hub of Northeast Asia. In this regard, we will strive to generate more investment in tourism and improve Korea’s image as a tourism destination,” he said.
The KTO will soon introduce “Korean Tourism Supporters,” composed of both Koreans and non-Koreans, who will work in conjunction with local governments to exchange ideas about how best to develop the country as a tourist attraction.
Meanwhile, Korea’s focus on tourism has been gaining attention from the international community.
Korea will host the 2011 general meeting of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), following a decision unanimously made at a meeting of 154 members of UNWTO in Astana, Kazakhstan last month. An UNTWO assembly is attended by culture ministers of member nations and is held every other year.
The world’s largest event on tourism will raise some 15 billion won ($13 million) worth of economic benefits. Officials see the assembly as a good opportunity to promote the 2010-2012 Visit Korea campaign.