Kang Cheol-won, Seoul City’s
chief overseas marketing officer
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Seoul sees expatriates living in Korea as its key promoters to the world.
"The best way to promote the city is foreign residents telling their friends that Seoul is worth visiting," said Kang Cheol-won, director-general of Seoul's Public Relations Planning Bureau.
Kang is reaching out to expats because Seoul is not as well-known globally as Koreans believe. Any help in increasing global awareness of the city is welcomed, as far as he is concerned. Kang is leading overseas marketing for Seoul.
According to a survey by the Korea Tourism Organization, 42 percent of foreigners said they don't know about Seoul and therefore don't make plans to visit the city.
"We think Seoul is widely known, but that is the first myth we have to dismantle to let the world know our city and Korea better," Kang said.
Seoul ranked 33rd out of 40 in the Anholt Nation Brands Index in 2007, lower than other Asian cities like Tokyo at 20th, Singapore at 23rd and Hong Kong at 26th. "Those cities put millions of dollars into promote themselves," Kang said.
As Seoul's chief of overseas marketing, Kang considers the city a product and seeks ways to "sell" it.
"First, we have to raise the name recognition of Seoul and then promote the charm of the city, where tradition and modernity coexist. We want to solicit foreign investment through Seoul's strong points of safety and convenience," he said. "Ultimately, we want to create Seoul's brand image as a city where people want to come, live and invest."
Seoul spent 21 billion won ($17.5 million) on overseas marketing last year, up 10-fold from the previous year.
For effective marketing, the city has identified Japan, China, Southeast Asia, the Americas and several countries in Europe as benchmarks and concentrated its efforts to boost tourism.
The city has made several commercials featuring local people and celebrities last and this year, with "hallyu" ― or Korean wave ― stars such as TVXQ making appearances in this year's segments.
"We have also attracted Chinese television producers to shoot variety shows in Seoul," he said. For example, actress Lin Chi-Ling visited the city for a photo shoot and television show with Korean actress Yoon Eun-hye, Sunday.
Seoul also signed sponsorship contracts with Manchester United, the English Premier League football team where Korean player Park Ji-sung plys his trade. "Manchester United games are aired worldwide and with audiences averaging 300 million."
Rain, a top Korean singer and actor, became Seoul's global goodwill ambassador in June and actively participates in promoting the city. "The singer suggests ideas for city promotion by himself. He might have a concert on the Han River this winter against the backdrop of the beautiful fountains of Banpo Bridge," Kang said.
The city will hold Big Air, an urban snowboard jump challenge, in December to showcase its downtown area including the new Gwanghwamun Plaza. "Seoul's scenery will be aired through sports channels around the world," he said.
"City marketing is not something we can see the results of right away," Kang said. "However, we are seeing an increase in tourists and a boost in city recognition, and expect to see good results in three to four years."
AC Nielson analyzed the effect of Seoul's overseas marketing through surveys on 2,000 potential visitors. After the promotional efforts, Seoul topped as the city most people want to visit among people in China, Japan and Thailand.
The number of visitors to Korea increased from 6.5 million in 2007 to 6.9 million last year. By April, 2.7 million visited and almost all passed through Seoul. This is a 24-percent increase from the same period last year, proving the marketing abroad has been fruitful so far.
Kang also recognized that Seoul still has a way to go to attract more tourists. "Accommodation in hotels and traditional food is expensive and the language barrier for tourists still exists," he added.