With 2010 to 2012 set as Visit Korea Years, the government has been exerting efforts to attract more foreign tourists and raise the competitiveness of its tourism industry. In this context, Business Korea interviewed Director General Shin Yong-eon of Tourism Industry Bureau of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, including the question on where the industry is standing now.
The World Economic Forum has recently released Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2011. According to it, Korea ranks 125th out of the 133 countries in the attitude toward foreign tourists category. This could affect the national image of Korea. What is the government’s plan in this regard?
A national image takes a long period of time to be improved and we, as a whole, should change our attitude toward foreign travelers for the better if we are going to raise the affinity. If we show them our geniality as it is, they will be attracted to visit our country again and I believe that is something as important as the betterment of tourism infrastructure. As such, the government is going to lead the entire nation, not to mention the local tourism industry, to take its hospitality service up to another level.
To that end, currently underway is the campaign of ‘Say Hi First.’ The government is planning to launch more of such hospitality campaigns together with the media since its role is highly important to raise the awareness and form a social consensus.
Also, more of the global etiquette sessions will be opened for adolescents and local governments will take part in the hospitality service trainings for those in the tourism industry. By means of those customized trainings, the government will make better the nation’s hospitality service.
The Hallyu, or Korean Wave, has contributed a lot to the improvement of Korea’s national image, attracting a large number of foreign tourists. What is the current administration’s plan to further boost it?
The Korean Wave ranges from movies and dramas to music and many more, and it has become a worldwide phenomenon, not limited to Asia. It has paid dividends in promoting Korea’s culture and refining its national image.
For example, K-POP is all the rage these days in Europe and South America, especially in France and Peru. To further spur the boom, the government will launch relevant marketing activities and open more Hallyu concerts down the road. I am sure that those will help us attract more foreign tourists.
Korea recorded deficits as large as US$7 billion in the tourism balance in 2010 and, this year, the local industry is aiming to invite more than 10 million foreign travelers. There is no doubt that such quantitative growth matters, of course. Nevertheless, isn’t it as important to grow the industry into a high value-added one through paradigm shift?
Tentatively, Korea’s tourism balance recorded some US$3.5 billion last year. Still, the number of inbound tourists posted a remarkable surge during the period to approximately 8.8 million persons, showing a 65% growth from 2000’s 5.3 million. As far as the number’s growth is concerned, Korea has outpaced China and Japan all the way since 2005 by recording 6.7% on average between 2005 and 2009. The figures for China and Japan stood at 2.1% and 0.2% during the same period, respectively.
It is true that our past tourism policy focused rather on the quantitative side and it is also true that it has accelerated the advent of the era when more than 10 million foreign tourists visit Korea a year. However, the government is not overlooking the importance of the qualitative side, either. It is preparing a variety of policy to serve both ends. Among them, it is studying how to ameliorate the four key elements of tourism, i.e., lodging, guide, food and shopping services. The government will come up with some measures for the purpose soon.
Recently, the number of Chinese tourists to Korea has increased by 10% to 20% each year and they have been found to spend more here than their Japanese and American counterparts do. What is somewhat worrisome is that their channel is lopsided to low-price ones. What is the government planning to do about this?
I think that we should take different approaches for those who prefer inexpensive tourism products and those who choose high value-added ones. Currently, China is in the early stage in terms of overseas trip liberalization and the preference for the cheaper way of traveling abroad is likely to continue for a while. Under the circumstances, the Korean government is finding it necessary to guarantee a certain level of quality for those products. Some measures are on the anvil in this point, such as the monitoring of Korean agencies’ tour products for Chinese travelers and reflecting the result in its assessment of China-specialized agencies.
The higher-end travel products, meanwhile, are sure to be increasingly popular with time. To further develop the segment, the government has cooperated with local travel agencies in China since 2008, assisting those products to meet certain criteria in terms of restaurant, shopping and hotel services. Last year, a total of 9,943 tourists of 424 groups visited Korea by means of those and the government is going to increase its assistance this year.
Another point to think about is that Chinese travelers can opt for Japan, instead of Korea, with the higher-end products for both nations costing about the same. If Korea is going to lead them to itself, the development of unique products is very important. In this vein, the government has helped the development of tailored products targeting urban-dwelling high income earners of China, e.g., medical tourism, cruise, winter sports and wedding products.
As Korea’s foreigners-only casinos have been in the red chronically, it seems that local governments will demand more strongly that ordinary casinos be allowed. What is your opinion about it? Additionally, the case of Singapore has shown us that the development of casino-resort complexes leads to the creation of many jobs. What are your thoughts about it as a new growth driver of the local tourism industry?
Foreigners-only casinos in Korea have suffered from deficits for long with the exception of those in Seoul, Incheon and Busan. In order to address the problem, the industry itself should try to be more competitive. It is not a matter to be resolved by accepting locals.
Currently, the public’s awareness of the gambling industry is quite negative and we have witnessed side effects like gambling addiction. Therefore, the government’s stance, as of now, is to continue to ban casinos from letting locals in.
It has been confirmed that some Asian nations with no casino, like Japan and Taiwan, are benchmarking Singapore. With those small-sized casinos located in downtown hotels at saturation point now, I think it is about time for us to take into account casino-resort complexes providing shopping, dining, performance and many more attractions at a time. If combined with the MICE (meeting, incentives, convention, events & exhibition) industry, those facilities will be able to create some industrial synergy.
Korea is home to advanced medical technologies. However, its medical tourism industry is not achieving its full potential yet due mainly to the lack of awareness abroad. What is its current status and how is the government going to help enhance its competitiveness?
Korea’s medical sector is truly world-class, especially in cosmetic surgery, dermatology and so on. Therefore, its medical tourism industry building on it has huge potentials as a high value-added one.
We cannot deny that we started a bit late in medical tourism and are falling behind Thailand, Singapore, etc. However, the government is striving to help it grow fast, repealing regulations in tandem with the Ministry of Health and Welfare and launching marketing and promotion campaigns with the Korea Tourism Organization’s offices overseas. I believe such efforts will result in Korea’s swelling the ranks of medical tourism powerhouses.