|Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Park Yang-woo speaks during an interview with The Korea Times. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk|
Minister Park committed to enhancing people's happiness through cultural promotion
By Anna J. Park
It's been about six months since Minister Park Yang-woo, 60, took the helm of the nation's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The minister has more than 30 years of experience in cultural policy and lately has been focused on promoting domestic tourism and increasing inbound tourists to Korea.
During an interview with The Korea Times on Wednesday, Minister Park discussed the outcome of the annual trilateral meeting among the culture and tourism ministers of Korea, China and Japan; the government's various efforts to attract tourists, especially from ASEAN countries; and his desire to encourage domestic tourism programs.
"Last week, the culture and tourism ministers of Korea, China and Japan held a three-day annual intergovernmental meeting in Incheon; the meeting ended with all parties agreeing to the Incheon Declaration, vowing to increase cooperation and joint cultural exchanges among the three neighboring countries," Minister Park said.
The ministers of culture and tourism from the three countries have been holding the annual meeting for over a decade, discussing ways to better cooperate in the areas of culture and tourism. This year's meeting drew more attention, as it was held amid a strained relationship between Seoul and Tokyo.
"Basically, we ministers all shared the view that tourism and culture should be separated from politics and diplomacy. But during the meeting, we also shared our opinions and difficulties over recent situations candidly," the minister said.
"At the start of this year, it was expected that Korean tourists to Japan would be increasing about 25 percent compared to the previous year, but the number has decreased drastically lately. The Japanese tourism minister expressed concern over the matter during the meeting. But as you know, it's not that the Korean government dissuaded the public from traveling to Japan; it's the public themselves who decided not to go. So I explained the main reason behind such decisions is that Korean people's minds have been closed, and the closure of their minds seems to have started from Japan's sudden economic sanctions on Korea this summer. I also said that it now seems that in order to open Koreans' minds again, those economic sanctions by Japan would need to be revoked," Park said.
|Culture Minister Park Yang-woo, center, jointly signs the Incheon Declaration with Japan's tourism minister Ishii Keiichi, left, and China's culture minister Luo Shugang, Aug. 30, following a trilateral meeting between the three countries in Incheon. Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism|
While the ministers acknowledged that the current situation in mutual tourism is not as active as it used to be, the ministers of the three countries agreed that they will make sure to cooperate to establish a peace regime in the Northeast Asian region through sustainable and close tourism cooperation.
"While we will officially execute all agreements on the Incheon Declaration, it was meaningful to frankly exchange our concerns and views on recent developments. We also discussed improving tourism products' quality with China, and deepening tourism exchanges further with both China and Japan. The meeting ended with an amicable atmosphere, and I expect to see a better future," the minister added.
Upon the end of the trilateral annual meeting, Minister Park had a busy start of this week, welcoming Vietnamese tourists at the Incheon International Airport, as this week marks the "2019 Vietnam Welcome Week."
"The ministry ran an intensive promotion of tourism to Korea during the summer in mostly Southeast Asian countries. People from these countries as well as China take up a huge percentage of inbound tourists to Korea. I went to the airport earlier this week to welcome tourists from Vietnam, as this week was designated as Vietnam Welcome Week. We plan to celebrate Welcome Week events for other Southeast Asian countries later this year," the minister said.
During the Welcome Weeks, special welcome booths are prepared at the airport to aid tourists from the designated countries. Language translation aid helpers will be found at the airport, as well as special discounts at various shopping centers or tourists spots will be available. For some 20 days starting from November 20, "Welcome Week for ASEAN Countries" will be running, targeting six countries, including Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, which has many inbounds tourists to Korea.
|Minister Park Yang-woo, center, visits Soswaewon Garden in Damyang County, Jeolla Province, in early August, while wearing traditional Korean hanbok. The visit aims to promote the domestic tourism industry. Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism|
The culture minister is also preparing an upcoming Autumn Tourism Week later this month. From Sept. 12 to 29, the government will run the promotion, aiming to boost domestic tourism. Launched in 2014, this promotional biannual event has been taking place every spring and autumn to diversify domestic tourism, which has been focused mainly during the season of summer.
"We are currently promoting domestic tourism through the official website of the Korea Tourism Organization by introducing various tourist gems in Korea. We hope more Koreans will be able to enjoy visiting places they've never been before," the minister said.
The minister shared his firm belief that tourism, as well as culture in general, has a paramount role in the government, as it not only has a huge economic effect on a country, but also it is directly linked to people's happiness.
"According to recent statistics, when respondents asked about their favorite things to do in their free time, travel came in first, followed by hobbies, arts and cultural productions, and sports activities. These all fall under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism," Minister Park said.
"As the survey results show, culture is what makes people truly happy. That's why I believe providing healthy foundations for flourishing and enriching culture is what the government should do for the sake of the happiness of the people as well as the stronger economy of a country," he stressed.
With Minister Park's leadership, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism will operate the largest annual budget ever of about 6.5 trillion won (about $5.4 billion) next year. This is a nearly 10 percent increase from the budget for this year, and more than a fifth of the total budget will be spent on boosting and further developing the tourism industry.
"A heightened focus on the realm of culture and tourism by the government is closely linked to the current Korean society. We have entered a consistent low-growth era, with an aging society. With such changes coming from the past compressed growth and matured awareness, the Korean people put more priority on work-life balance and individual values. In this context, I hope to nurture and build a stable system under which Korea's culture and tourism flourish freely and develop further," he said.