Can Korea Position Itself as a Global Destination?
Senior Director of International Marketing and Conventions, Seoul Tourism Organization
The simple answer is yes, absolutely. The solution has been a long time coming and admittedly, Korea is uncharacteristically behind schedule in establishing itself as a tourism destination. While there have been
To find out, those of us in the tourism industry need to ask ourselves some difficult questions. We need to think long and hard and dig deep for meaningful answers.
One problem is that, in general, the tourism industry tends to suffer from a lack of respect. This is not just the case here in Korea, but in many other countries as well. There is a sense that careers in tourism and related enterprises are less than serious and somehow ``easy’’ since they are associated with such concepts as ``fun,’’ ``leisure’’ and ``recreation.’’
More emphasis is needed on the key word ``industry’’ and the importance of tourism in the overall economy. It is, after all, a $740 billion global industry and it is time Korea got a bigger piece of the pie. For a bit of perspective, consider this: profit on the sale of one exported automobile is estimated to be $500. Imagine the impact of millions of tourists spending $1000 in the country ― it has the potential to dwarf other industries. That is the real power of tourism.
Here in Korea, it is fair to say that officials in the upper echelons of national, provincial and city government now recognize the potential of the tourism sector to produce revenue and create employment. At the same time, we need firm support and professional acknowledgement from all levels of government and Korean society as well.
Here in Seoul, Mayor Oh Se-hoon and the Seoul Metropolitan Government in particular have stepped up efforts to stimulate inbound tourism to the city. Mayor Oh has set the bar high. It is precisely this kind of aggressive approach and challenge that is necessary to engage the people working in the industry and to break the old thinking that it can’t be done or that Seoul is not a destination capable of attracting millions of tourists. The Seoul city government’s initiative in establishing the Seoul Tourism Organization, a marketing firm whose mission is to develop and market Seoul-bound leisure and convention tourism, is a crucial step in the right direction.
In another positive trend, Mayor Oh has been encouraging Seoul’s districts to create tourism-related festivals and other activities.
The tourism industry is a multi-faceted one with an extremely important mission. Let me offer some points to ponder.
The recent U.S. visa waiver program has made the need for improvement and expansion of Korea’s inbound tourism market all the more urgent, as the number of outbound Korean travelers is expected to increase dramatically. Now more than ever, the Korean tourism industry must join together to present a united front. We tourism professionals are responsible for our own reputation. It is up to us to earn much deserved respect for our industry both in the eyes of government and society.
At the moment, the tourism industry in Korea is somewhat fragmented, with private and public groups often working in divergent areas. Often, these groups end up working on virtually identical projects. Such was the case when both the national and city tourism organizations recognized the need to identify and brand mid-priced range tourist hotels in Seoul. The Korea Tourism Organization developed the ``Benikea’’ program while the city developed a similar program named ``Innostel.’’
There may be a master tourism plan, but the industry seems to have veered off course. There is a need to go back to the drawing board and devise a comprehensive tourism program with clearly defined goals. Fundamentally, the foundation is weak and needs reinforcement. Japan too is experiencing similar problems and just last month created a new tourism agency to identify and address key issues related to attracting more visitors.
In the November issue of Korea magazine, Ceferino Valdez, the Paraguayan Ambassador to Korea, says how impressed he was by Taean oil spill cleanup efforts and expresses admiration for the spirit of cooperation displayed by the Korean people working together to accomplish their mission. He likened it to the Korean phrase for mutual assistance of ``sangbu-sangjo.’’ It struck me then that this is exactly the spirit the Korean tourism industry needs to draw from. No one should lose sight of our mutual mission: to attract more tourists to Korea.
Symbols and Image
There are some things that cannot be changed. I often hear Koreans lament the lack of pyramids or a Great Wall. It’s true, we don’t have those and we never will. Koreans themselves often tell me there is nothing to see in Korea, which is not true. Korea is a beautiful and exciting country. There is much to see and do. The challenge is to recognize Korea’s assets and develop them into marketable attractions that will appeal to visitors.
Another common complaint I have heard often from Koreans themselves is that Seoul doesn’t have a notable landmark ― no Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty to identify Seoul. But consider this: these cities did not set out to have these structures represent the city. Instead, images seen over and over subsequently came to symbolize theses cities. Ironically, many Parisians initially disliked the tower and there were protests both before and after it was constructed. And the Statue of Liberty? It was a gift from France to the United States.
So look around. My contention is that Seoul’s symbol is already here. It’s been right in front of our eyes for so long, it too has been overlooked. Some would say it’s the image of the N Seoul Tower perched high upon Mt. Namsan. My personal favorite: the Gates of Seoul, in particular the South Gate of Sungnyemun. Koreans long ago declared it National Treasure No. 1. What could be a more perfect symbol of hospitality than the open doors of an ancient royal gate waiting to welcome visitors? Now I know that the gate was severely damaged this year and is undergoing renovation. However, soon she will be restored to her glory and will stand ready to greet visitors from near and far.
Logos and Slogans
My other colleagues say the multiple tourism slogans and logos floating around are confusing, to say the least. Some tourism organizations have two logos and one slogan each, while others have one logo and two slogans. If it confuses people in the industry, imagine the effect on those considering a visit here! To be taken seriously as both an industry and destination, there is a need for appropriate logos and professional slogans. They must convey the proper message and image for our destination. We need simplicity and consistency.
In Ireland, the land of my ancestors, the native Gaelic language phrase of ``Cead Mile Failte’’ is often used as a slogan ― warmly offering ``A Hundred Thousand Welcomes.’’ Perhaps that explains why I like the simple idea of using Seoul’s official name in the Korean language, which translates to ``Seoul Special City.’’ I realize that this is an administrative title for the capital city. But again I ask, how better to describe this city than ``Seoul, A Special City?’’ If we don’t believe in ourselves, how can we possibly convince visitors to spend their vacation time here?
There are essentially two types of inbound markets, what we call short haul and long haul. Korea’s two main short haul markets are travelers from China and Japan. These markets have less resistance for they have a familiarity with Korea as a destination and are close.
On the other hand, the long haul markets, particularly the United States and Europe, are far more challenging. In these markets, Korea remains relatively unknown. Secondly, the two markets have entirely different approaches to travel and require different marketing strategies to effectively reach them. A one-size-fits-all marketing strategy will not work.
In advertising, the need for consistency and improved content plays an important role in attracting tourists. To be effective, the advertising must be placed in appropriate publications to reach the intended market. Tourism advertising needs to feature attractions that will intrigue potential visitors and prompt them to inquire about a vacation to Korea. Better to place a smaller advertisement once a month for a year than a full-page advertisement once or twice a year.
Korean Movie Industry and Tourism
Increasingly, movies have played a key role in improving national images. The Australia tourism industry is preparing to launch a multimillion-dollar promotional campaign to coincide with the upcoming release of the movie ``Australia,’’ hoping that the movie will generate increased tourism.
``The Lord of the Rings’’ did wonders for New Zealand, as did ``Lost in Translation’’ for Tokyo. With Korea’s advances in cinema, this would be an ideal area for collaboration between the Korean tourism and film industries.
Korea’s Greatest Strength
For my final musing, I would like to point to another overlooked asset in developing Korean tourism: the almost 50 million residents that call this country home. If the tourism industry used the word ``hospitality’’ a bit more and all Koreans took part in welcoming ``guests’’ to their ``home’’ ― every Korean would be a tourism ambassador for Korea. Just imagine the possibilities.