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Tourism underrated as job creator, growth driver

By Edmund Wong

My humble career in the tourism industry has given me the opportunity to experience some of the world's most dynamic tourism markets including Singapore, Malaysia, China, Australia and New Zealand, and exotic places such as Bangladesh and Mongolia.

Yet the years spent in these markets failed to prepare me for the raw potential that is Korea's tourism sector when I first came to Jeju Island six years ago.

For instance, the fact that 70 percent of Korea's land mass is covered in unspoiled mountains is a true blessing for the country's tourism industry. Korea also offers a diverse range of different landscapes including beaches, valleys, marshes and rivers all just a few short hours away from each other.

Coupled with Korea's cultural charms, hospitality and some of the world's most advanced public infrastructure, the nation truly has all the ingredients to offer the world a delectable tourism feast.

All this notwithstanding, the question must be asked: Is Korea living up to its full tourism potential?

According to a recent OECD report issued early this year, the average contribution percentage of tourism to the GDPs of member states amount to 10.4 percent while contribution to jobs records 10 percent. However, Korea's numbers stand at only 2.7 percent and 3 percent respectively. So to answer my own question, there still remains a good margin for the country's tourism industry to move upwards.

I have observed how developed nations draw on tourism as an equal pillar of GDP growth on par with key industries like manufacturing, ICT and finance.

Singapore is a good example. Since Singapore opened two integrated resorts ― Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa ― in 2010, its tourism economy received an immediate boost and became one of the fastest-growing sectors and directly contributed $17.7 billion in 2017 to the economy.

The two integrated resorts were also credited for creating 20,000 jobs and many more spin-off effects to the country's economy. Tourism is undeniably one of the fundamental parts of national economies. And I believe this will become more paramount in the coming years as the capacity for businesses to create jobs will diminish with the advancement of AI technology since tourism remains a high human touch business.

Behind the success cases of the world's most robust tourism markets lies a strong government initiative to cultivate tourism.

Going back to Singapore's case, the Singaporean government provided investment policies specifically designed to ensure that businesses continue to grow and invest further.

This "mothering" policy is the key reason behind its global reputation as a hotbed for foreign direct investment ― businesses know they will be taken care of when they invest in Singapore.

When COVID-19 hit the globe, Singapore moved quickly to protect businesses from collapsing. This included radical support packages like corporate income tax rebate and payment deferment, temporary relief on contractual obligations and subsidies for wage increases.

There are many perspectives and scenarios on how we will bounce back after the pandemic is over.

I see great potential in Korea's unique allure that could be a great addition to its economy. Reevaluating and revitalizing the tourism sector would be imperative to elevating Korea's standing in the global economy.

It is best positioned to become a beloved destination for world travelers with its beautiful natural heritage and rich culture. Koreans are naturally service-minded, and most importantly, the nation has the technology to add a competitive edge to the industry.

The only question left is "Will the government ever see tourism as a fundamental pillar of the economy?" If Korea does, I am confident that tourism will emerge stronger as a GDP driver and a major job creator for the nation.


Edmund Wong is the CEO of Jeju Shinhwa World.


By Edmund Wong

My humble career in the tourism industry has given me the opportunity to experience some of the world's most dynamic tourism markets including Singapore, Malaysia, China, Australia and New Zealand, and exotic places such as Bangladesh and Mongolia.

Yet the years spent in these markets failed to prepare me for the raw potential that is Korea's tourism sector when I first came to Jeju Island six years ago.

For instance, the fact that 70 percent of Korea's land mass is covered in unspoiled mountains is a true blessing for the country's tourism industry. Korea also offers a diverse range of different landscapes including beaches, valleys, marshes and rivers all just a few short hours away from each other.

Coupled with Korea's cultural charms, hospitality and some of the world's most advanced public infrastructure, the nation truly has all the ingredients to offer the world a delectable tourism feast.

All this notwithstanding, the question must be asked: Is Korea living up to its full tourism potential?

According to a recent OECD report issued early this year, the average contribution percentage of tourism to the GDPs of member states amount to 10.4 percent while contribution to jobs records 10 percent. However, Korea's numbers stand at only 2.7 percent and 3 percent respectively. So to answer my own question, there still remains a good margin for the country's tourism industry to move upwards.

I have observed how developed nations draw on tourism as an equal pillar of GDP growth on par with key industries like manufacturing, ICT and finance.

Singapore is a good example. Since Singapore opened two integrated resorts ― Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa ― in 2010, its tourism economy received an immediate boost and became one of the fastest-growing sectors and directly contributed $17.7 billion in 2017 to the economy.

The two integrated resorts were also credited for creating 20,000 jobs and many more spin-off effects to the country's economy. Tourism is undeniably one of the fundamental parts of national economies. And I believe this will become more paramount in the coming years as the capacity for businesses to create jobs will diminish with the advancement of AI technology since tourism remains a high human touch business.

Behind the success cases of the world's most robust tourism markets lies a strong government initiative to cultivate tourism.

Going back to Singapore's case, the Singaporean government provided investment policies specifically designed to ensure that businesses continue to grow and invest further.

This "mothering" policy is the key reason behind its global reputation as a hotbed for foreign direct investment ― businesses know they will be taken care of when they invest in Singapore.

When COVID-19 hit the globe, Singapore moved quickly to protect businesses from collapsing. This included radical support packages like corporate income tax rebate and payment deferment, temporary relief on contractual obligations and subsidies for wage increases.

There are many perspectives and scenarios on how we will bounce back after the pandemic is over.

I see great potential in Korea's unique allure that could be a great addition to its economy. Reevaluating and revitalizing the tourism sector would be imperative to elevating Korea's standing in the global economy.

It is best positioned to become a beloved destination for world travelers with its beautiful natural heritage and rich culture. Koreans are naturally service-minded, and most importantly, the nation has the technology to add a competitive edge to the industry.

The only question left is "Will the government ever see tourism as a fundamental pillar of the economy?" If Korea does, I am confident that tourism will emerge stronger as a GDP driver and a major job creator for the nation.


Edmund Wong is the CEO of Jeju Shinhwa World.


Lee Hyo-sik leehs@koreatimes.co.kr


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