|Two co-founders of 5.4 Club — Choi Jung-wha, left in the second row, president of Corea Image Communication Institute and Didier Beltoise, right in front row, CEO of the consulting firm Cs — pose with members of the non-profit tourism promotion organization as they discussed how to diversify Korean tourism content at their regular meeting held Tuesday at the InterContinental Seoul COEX. / Courtesy of CICI|
By Kim Ji-soo
The tourism business in Korea always peaks in the summer. During this time, a significantly high number of Chinese tourists, commonly known as "youker," can be seen here.
According to the Korea Tourism Organization, the number of Chinese tourists in Korea in August, the last month of summer, stood at 757,683 or 52.1 percent of the 1,454,078 foreign visitors. In the same month last year, such tourists accounted for only 643,258 or 47.3 percent of the 1,358,909 foreign tourists.
One of the most important Korean attractions for youker is the shopping industry — from the very affordable Korean cosmetics used by Korean celebrities to the luxury clothing and food items.
But there is a rising concern among business owners that Korea's tourism sector relies too much on the shopping industry to attract foreign tourists. They have called on the sector to develop other attractions, such as casinos and large-scale resorts. The members of the 5.4 Club discussed this issue during their regular meeting Tuesday at the InterContinental Seoul COEX in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul. The 5.4 Club was launched by the Corea Image Communication Institute (CICI) and consulting firm Cs in 2013 under the motto of promoting Korea through "Feeling Korea through Five Sense and Four Themes."
"A survey by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism last year found that about 78 percent of foreign tourists came to Korea for shopping," said Choi Jung-wha, president of the CICI, as she led the discussion on how Korea could diversify and upgrade its tourist products and services.
"It's a dangerous trend to depend solely on the Chinese market; we need to ask ourselves, what will happen if the shopping drops?" said Didier Beltoise, CEO of Cs, adding that the trend will not help small and medium-sized companies in the country. But more importantly, Beltoise said, the sector needs the support of everyone in the country. "Tourism should not be driven by Seoul but by all regions of Korea," he said, citing the 2012 London Summer Olympics as an example of a tourism-related event that became successful because of the people's support.
Meanwhile, Choe Yong-kwan of the Club Octagon, a popular club at Hilltop Hotel in southern Seoul, suggested that the sector should provide tourists more detailed information on the country's nightlife.
"I noticed a page on Singapore's tourism booklet that specifies the nightclubs, their locations and their characteristics," Choe said, expressing his disappointment that no such information is available on the nightlife in Korea. "We tend to be hesitant about promoting our nightlife. But things have changed. It's not something to be ashamed about. We should provide such information," he said.
Choe also asked the authorities to reconsider the government policy on taxation and bank financing for nightclub owners. The tourist entertainment industry has had a negative image in Korea for a long time.
"We should cultivate nightlife tourism," Darren Morrish, general manager of InterContinental Seoul COEX concurred, adding that younger tourists enjoy going to the clubs.
The other members at the meeting said Seoul needs more tourist attractions, like the wax museum Musee Grevin in France. Kim Yong-kwan, head of concert organizing company Mast Media, Musee Grevin Seoul is expected to open in downtown Seoul across the Lotte Hotel in June 2015. Kim added he figures of "hallyu" celebrities are currently being scanned for reproduction, he added.
On medical tourism, "We need to provide detailed information in an integration way," Park Jae-woo of Dr.Park's Plastic Surgery, said, adding that such information should be provided mainly through the Internet because that's where foreign patients first look. "Before we develop the content, we need to build the digital infrastructure," Park said.
Bernhard Brender, general manager of the Grand Hilton Seoul, said shopping is a trend but Korea should also develop other offerings ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. "Make sure that Korea makes the best ski jackets," he said.
Han Yoon-ju of the Korean restaurant Congdu said Korea should follow Spain's strategy of promoting diverse types of Korean restaurants to visitors.
"We need a differentiation strategy that involves promoting our traditional culture as well as offering products and services tailored to each visitor" said Lee Hye-soon, a traditional Korean attire or "hanbok" designer.
Choi of CICIsaid that it's time for Korea to provide more "active" content where the visitors can participate in specific Korean experiences.
During the meeting, Chung Yuni, CEO of Oliversweet, a dessert and pastry company founded in 2007 gave a presentation of the company. The company has four shops in Seoul and a workshop in Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul. The 5.4 club also announced two new members: Go Young-ha, head of marketing company amc!asia and Park Dong-wan of 24th Street.
After the meeting, the participants gathered for a Korean dinner. The dishes included sauteed vegetables wrapped in thin pancakes, smoked-duck breast roll; chestnut and pine nut porridge with black sesame ball, cucumber soju cocktail topped with chrystanthemum; grilled tender U.S. steak with soy sauce accompanied by Korean rolls and seasonal fruit and mango shimiro for dessert.
Also in attendance at the 5.4 Club meeting were Shim Jay-hyuk, vice chairman of Taekwang Industrial Co.; Lee Jai-wook, a lawyer at Yulchon firm; and Ian Jeong, an Oriental medicine doctor.