Gongju City Introduces Cyber Citizenship Program
Cities nationwide have been eager to benchmark Gongju for its ``cyber citizenship'' program, designed to provide incentives to visitors and tourists to the ancient capital in South Chungcheong Province.
Gongju Mayor Lee Jun-won came up with the idea last year to promote tourism in a town that has recently seen a significant decrease in population. It once had a population of 200,000 but there are now only 124,000 residents.
``When I became mayor in 2006, the most pressing tasks for my office were to expand our population and fully utilize our rural areas as tourist attractions,'' Mayor Lee told The Korea Times in a recent interview.
To that end, Gongju has offered honorary online citizenship to anyone, Korean or foreigner, who registers with the official Web site of the program at http://cyber.gongju.go.kr. A certificate of honorary citizenship is issued upon registration.
Ahead of the 2010 Visit Chungcheong Year, many Koreans are signing up to become cyber citizens of Gongju, a town with the rich cultural legacy of the Baekje Kingdom (18 B.C.-660 A.D.).
Incentives for Cyber Citizens
``There are manifold incentives to be enjoyed by becoming an honorary Gongju citizen,'' Lee said, underlining that 170,000 people, exceeding the city's actual population, have registered.
The mayor is hoping that as many as 1 million Koreans and foreigners will sign up in the future.
Cyber Gongju citizens can visit some of the most famous historical sites of Baekje free of charge and enjoy discounted rates at designated facilities and in purchasing agricultural produce in Gongju.
The incentives are one thing, but an important aim of the program is to instill a sense of loyalty in visitors to Gongju.
``As a city of tourism and culture, it is vitally important for the regional economy that we acquire a loyal pool of regular visitors,'' Lee said. ``We want our cyber citizens to keep coming back and feel that they belong in Gongju. We hope that 300,000 will have signed up by the end of the year.''
``We will also support local administrations in other parts of country, including the neighboring town of Buyeo, interested in benchmarking the program,'' the mayor said.
Globalizing Baekje Legacy
The mayor projected that the number of cyber citizens at home and abroad will see a significant increase, especially in light of a series of tourism projects initiated by South Chungcheong Province.
The province has been staging a 2010 Visit Chungcheong campaign, the heart of which is the Baekje Cultural Festival held in Gongju since 1955.
Gongju is the site of its cultural and historical legacy that continues to fascinate historians and visitors alike.
For the last 55 years, the city has hosted the festival, one of the three oldest cultural fests held in Korea. It has largely remained a domestic event, but Gongju aims to globalize Baekje through holding the 2010 Baekje History Expo.
``We would like to disseminate the artistry, the openness and diversity of the Baekje culture to the world. For example, one would be amazed by the modernity of jewelry excavated from the site of a Baekje king's grave with a 1,400 years of history,'' Lee said.
The annual event is held in October with parades, rituals and memorial ceremonies for the four great kings of Baekje, among other activities. Gongju is expecting a large number of overseas tourists, especially from Japan and China, which had active diplomatic and cultural ties with Baekje.
``In the past, 80 percent of foreign visitors to the festival were from these two countries. Naturally, we are implementing promotional measures specifically targeted at Japan and China,'' Lee said.
South Chungcheong Governor Lee Wan-gu recently visited Japan to publicize the festival.
In addition, Gongju has been cultivating close ties with historical cities around the world to seek their participation.
``We have high hopes for the 2010 Baekje History Expo in giving us a global recognition. We are expecting about 100,000 overseas tourists to the festival.''
Besides the cyber citizenship project, Gongju has been conducting a campaign to urge urbanites to take a rural weekend getaway and take a break from city life.
Gongju is a rural town, with one third of the population engaging in agricultural activities.
``Spend five days during the week in the city and then visit Gongju for the weekend to immerse yourself in the health and cultural merits of rural life,'' the mayor said, in underlining the vision of the so-called ``5 Urban 2 Rural'' campaign.
Part of Gongju's efforts to fuel regional growth, the campaign is designed to meet the increasing desire of urbanites for well-being lifestyles.
``We would like to revitalize the spirit of weekend visitors as they experiment with farming, consume fresh farm produce and engage in sightseeing,'' Lee said.
The city boasts extensive water skiing facilities and golf courses to attract city visitors for the weekend.
While Gongju is still known to the rest of the country as a rural area, its profile is expected to change significantly upon completion of an administrative capital currently under construction in South Chungcheong Province since 2005.
Gongju and its neighboring county of Yeongi will constitute Sejong City, which will house central government ministries starting 2012. Korea has invested more than 4 trillion won in the project to create a separate administrative hub by 2030.
The original architects of the plan, during the previous Roh Moo-Hyun administration, believed that the undertaking would serve as a new engine of growth in the region, bringing an influx of government officials and their families.
``Sejong has profound national implications. I firmly believe that it will contribute to Korea's balanced development by easing the overpopulation in the existing Capital area,'' Lee said.
At age 45, Lee is the youngest mayor in the country. He previously served as professor of public administration at Kongju National University before being elected to his post in 2006.