Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) chief executive Lee Cham and his staff answered The Weekly’s questions on such topics as the organization’s role in promoting tourism to Jeju; how to make the island more amenable to foreigners and how Mr. Lee applies concepts in Eastern philosophy to the execution of his marketing strategy. This email interview was translated from Korean and edited for clarity. — Ed.
Q. Just how do you see the KTO’s role in promoting Jeju tourism -- domestically and internationally?
Jeju tourism, with its well conserved natural environment, has been drawing attention since the concept of “well-being” has grown in popularity throughout the world. Due to the rise in demand for eco-tourism, the KTO provides tour information about Jeju’s UNESCO Natural Heritage sites, Jeju Olle tours, “well-being” [healthy] items, as well as supporting TV programs which promote Jeju Island.
To promote Jeju internationally, the KTO has developed targeted tour packages, offering group tours of the island to influential travel agencies and journalists.
At the moment, the KTO is looking to build interest and participation in the vote for New7Wonders of Nature through our Web site (english.visitkorea.or.kr) and the media.
Q. With regard to the Jungmun golf project, what roles have the KTO and the Jeju Tourism Organization (JTO) taken to make Jeju more foreigner-friendly and promote development?
Briefly, the KTO promotes the Jungmun resort, among other forms of Jeju tourism, via KTO’s overseas branches. To attract high-value golf tourism, KTO is developing various programs and discounts in association with local Jeju golf courses, tourism companies and hotels.
JTO, which is our Jeju affiliate (ijto.or.kr), works with duty-free businesses and pursues policies to promote Jeju tourism. It also works with the KTO on various projects.
▲ KTO CEO Lee Cham. Photo courtesy KTO
Q. You came to Korea in the 1980s. Do you recall your first trip to Jeju Island? Do you have any reflections on the changes you noticed between your first trip here and your more recent trips?
When I visited Jeju for the first time in 1983, Jeju lacked infrastructure such as transportation, hotels and tourism facilities. Except for simple sightseeing, the island wasn’t geared towards tourism.
Now Jeju has various facilities such as luxury hotels and condos and activities like leisure sports and cultural tours. Also, the number of eco-tourists visiting the Natural Heritages sites, Olle walking trails and oreum tours has increased, along with a dramatic jump in the number of Chinese tourists. This has transformed Jeju tourism.
Q. You’ve been head of the KTO for about two years, with one year to go on your tenure. Your appointment as the first non-native Korean to head a public corporation was widely hailed as a sign Korea was opening up to the world. You described yourself as being the “[Western] face of Korean tourism.”
1) At the beginning of your term you said in interviews that you would implement a “five rim” strategy. Did you achieve this?
Just like yin-yang and the five elements in Eastern philosophy, the five rim must be carried out for Korean tourism to thrive.
Ddul rim (swaying) corresponds to wood (木) and means tourists need to have fun and be excited. Ggeul rim (attention) corresponds with fire (火), meaning Korean tourism should have lots of attractions to draw visitors. Eul rim (harmony) corresponds to earth (土), meaning every part of the tourism industry should be encouraged to grow organically. Ul rim (resonance) corresponds to metal (金), indicating that for tourism, people’s emotions need to be touched. Mombu rim (struggle) is for water (水), emphasizing that for those four Rim mentioned above, one needs to act.
National attention on the tourism industry has increased and growth in the percentage of foreign tourists has hit double digits. I believe this was made possible by the application of the five rim to the tourism industry. However we have to maintain the five rim to reach 10 million foreign tourists to Korea.
2) You also mentioned in an interview that you wondered if you would be able to make changes and create dramatic results at the KTO. What accomplishments and setbacks stick out in your mind?
We have accomplished a great deal over the last two years. The KTO has broadened its approach in this time, becoming a more challenging and creative entity. Building on a network of Korea tourism supporters, the organization has created a new culture. Furthermore a new image for Korean tourism was promoted through overseas advertising.
We haven’t exactly run into any problems but there are still many things we need to actively work on. We need to invigorate the “holiday culture” to advance domestic tourism infrastructure and foster a more creative industry. Domestic tourism culture should come first to attract foreign tourists.
3) You pointed out three areas where Korea needed to improve: 1) International image; 2) uneven in-bound/out-bound tourism numbers; 3) unsatisfactory price and facility competitiveness. Have you seen positive changes in these over the last two years?
Many in the foreign media have showed an interest in the unique Korean energy gi, heung and jung (see below) and described Korea as an attractive tourist destination which is “inspiring” and “refreshing.” This shows there has been positive change in the national image.
The inbound number of tourists from abroad exceeded 7.8 million in 2009 and 8.8 million in 2010. Accordingly, we can see that the Korean tourism industry is fairly stable regardless of outer influence (economic depression, influenza epidemic, etc.) In fact, the imbalance of inbound/outbound numbers should not be considered as surplus/deficit. Koreans going overseas are not necessarily bad. People use domestic airlines and tourism agencies which are good for our tourism industry and people also play their roles as nongovernmental diplomats.
However to attract foreign tourists, accommodation infrastructure must be improved. Currently, rooms for foreign tourists are ridiculously insufficient compared to the 900,000 rooms available in Japan. Even in the area around the capital, Korea lacks 100,000 rooms. Since this tourist accommodation infrastructure cannot be improved in the short-term, the KTO is trying to improve this by demonstrating an expanded “Korean B&B (Koreastay)” this year for the first time.
Q. The KTO Facebook page has over 60,000 people who “like” and follow it. What other social media plans does the KTO have in mind regarding promoting Korea to the world online?
Our head office and overseas branches advertise Korean tourism information through social media sites such as Facebook (facebook.com/koreatourism) and Twitter (twitter.com/koreantravel). Also, we are extending the application of interactive media to invigorate online communication (ibuzzkorea.com).
Q. In the last year of your position at KTO, what projects are you most excited about completing?
We launched our “Korean tourism supporters” network in February 2010 to improve the domestic tourism culture part of which involved the visiting of 14 provincial governments. There has been calls for nationwide endeavors to support a competitive tourism environment since the efforts of tourism-related organizations and people were considered not sufficient for the growth of the Korean tourism industry.
Therefore, we launched the “Korean tourism supporters” project to get ideas and advice to help develop domestic tourism through such events as cultural festivals. The supporters project was led by local governments, the development and marketing sector who consisted of experts in economic and cultural studies. Advice was also taken from foreigners living in Korea.
Also, foreigners in Korea who work as tourism supporters (including ambassadors and staffs of tourism association), speak a lot about the development potential of Korean tourism after recognizing the hidden beauty of Korea.
Q. In many interviews you give to the press, your answers often have philosophical components and insights to them. Your mention of gi, heung and jung in a CNN interview a few years ago was interesting. Please give us your thoughts about Asian philosophy as it pertains to your job and life.
Gi is the mysterious energy that flows in Korean history, culture and nature. Heung is the passionate, exciting energy as was seen in the 2002 World Cup and now through K-pop. Jung is the emotional and friendly energy.
Last year, we demonstrated gi, heung and jung for foreign TV ad material. This campaign differed from former ads that only featured arranged material. In this new advertising strategy, we expressed the attraction of Korea to three separate markets, Japan, China/South-east Asia and America, under the concept of “starting new inspiration.”
(Translation by Jeju Weekly interns Baek Hee Youn and Kim Ahnam)
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