"The tourism industry is not immune to the contagion of financial crises that are sweeping the globe, and now is the time to be creative, proactive and innovative in promoting tourism."
So said Francesco Frangialli, former Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, at the recent 2009 Asia-Pacific Creativity Forum on Culture and Tourism.
The conference was held June 3-5 at the Shilla Hotel in Jungmun.
In his keynote address, “Creativity: A Key for 21st Century Tourism,” Frangialli laid out the good news, and the bad in the tourism industry.
First the bad news. He said that tourism globally is expected to flatten out, with zero or even negative growth this year, which hasn’t happened since the SARS epidemic in Asia in 2003. Adding a note of optimism he added, “Tourism is not collapsing. It is bending in the storm, but it is withstanding it.” And in every crisis, he said, there are opportunities for those who are able to react. “The crisis is a privileged moment for creativity,” he said.
How tourism can survive the financial downturn
While some traditional tourist destinations, such as the Mediterranean, are dealing with the crisis by simply trimming their sails, so to speak, and preparing to wait out the storm, others are facing the challenge head on.
He advised a course of adapting existing offerings to the means of the clientele, employing technological and marketing innovations to offer new products, increasing flexibility in order to adapt to the increase in internet bookings, and being creative.
“Creativity is a key for success in beginning of the 21st century,” he said.
This is a concept that Jeju tourism has already embraced, notably with the new tourism slogan, “Only Jeju Island,” but also with a greater focus on promoting the unique cultural aspects of Jeju to visitors. “The cultural personality specific to a country or to a destination thus become essential,” he said. “The local must assert itself in a global market.”
He went on to say that preserving a destination’s “cultural roots” in order to assert its personality must be combined with looking to the future and “unleashing the forces of cultural creation.” Korea is on the cusp of this movement, with a combined culture, media, sports and tourism ministerial department.
Refocus on cultural tourism
Jeju touts its UNESCO Natural World Heritage sites as major tourist attractions, but Frangialli notes 660 of the 851 UNESCO World Heritage sites are cultural in nature.
“All over the world, places of worship and shrines constitute major tourism attractions that religions, through the monuments whose creation they engendered, place at the disposal of their faithful and make available to the curiosity of non-believers,” he said.
Many of the magnificent Buddhist temples on Jeju are beginning to cater to tourists as well as their faithful. Recently Yakchun Temple in Jungmun hosted a group of foreigners for an overnight temple stay. Unfortunately it became a media circus, with the foreigners “meditating” in the vast temple surrounded by camera-toting tourists and a local TV crew.
In Jeju-si, Gwaneum Temple includes a gift shop, and opened its doors to visitor on the occasion of Buddha’s birthday in May. Non-Buddhists were invited by monks to join in the ceremony and share food.
Frangialli acknowledged that sort of inclusion could lead to a conflict of uses and needs.
“Let us be clear: It is the needs of the faithful, especially those who are practicing, that should always be given priority, notwithstanding the fact that all efforts of course also be made to ensure that those who visit for cultural or artistic purposes are received under conditions that are acceptable to all.”
Tourism can increase cultural appreciation
While with any form of tourism there is the risk of “loving it to death,” increasing visitation can also increase awareness of the need for preservation. “Tourism is one of the best friends of the environment and of culture,” he said. For example, the Jeju Folk Village increases appreciation for the lives of Jeju’s traditional villagers, and the Jeju Stone Park illuminates the uniqueness of Jeju’s natural world.
Frangialli closed with a message that seemed to provide a glimpse into the future of tourism on Jeju: “If tourism is capable of being innovative, responsive and creative, it will help ensure the future of our heritage and our cultural life.”