▲ Olle trail 15, like most, also takes walkers through villages. Photo by Lee Hae Sun
A recent Korean Tourism Organization poll, taken in the last two months of 2009, determined the Jeju Olle Walking trails to be the most desirable destination in South Korea. The trails also ranked number eight of Samsung Economic Research Institute’s annual poll of Top Ten Hit Products of 2009. As accolades accumulate and the trail’s reputation grows stronger, industries dealing with meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions -collectively known as MICE - both in Korea and abroad are beginning to take notice.
Nowadays, walking the Olle trails is a big thing, even for companies, said Suh Myung Sook, founder of Jeju Olle. She couldn’t be more correct. Since the first trail opened in 2007, the number of people who have trekked the Olle has increased monumentally from 3,000 hikers the first year to well more than 200,000 between Jan. and Sept. of 2009. It looks like the numbers will continue to increase, partially due to interest and participation from MICE industries.
“We will have a large leadership seminar there [in Jeju] in October of this year,” said Chung Tae Young, assistant pro-motions director for Amway Korea. “The participants are estimated to be around 7,000 to 8,000 and they are not only the employees, but their families as well.”
Amway Korea, supported by the Jeju provincial government, recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Jeju International Convention Center to hold its annual workshop program on the island. There will be a series of five to six workshops over the entire month in which selected employees will participate, but as Chung stressed, it is not all about work. “This is a combined tour of business and recreation,” he said, and that is where the Olle trails take center stage. The convention will feature several opportunities to visit the trails as both a recreational setting and a team-building training ground, because Olle is a favorite attraction for most Koreans.
In the past, Amway Korea has held its annual conventions in Hawaii, Malaysia and Australia, but decided to stay within its own borders this year due to the recession and partly, “in order to help raise the local economy.” The company picked Jeju as ideal, Chung said.
The Olle trails, inspired by Suh’s Camino de Santiago 800-km pilgrimage from France to Spain, were created as a reaction to the industrious attitude of the Korean people and she hopes the trails will afford an opportunity for calm and self-reflection. “I diagnosed that this society is really tired and stressed out from their work, Suh said. When people are really stressed out is the time to look back upon themselves for reflection and the Olle trails offer the perfect opportunity for reflection while they are walking.”
Amway is not the only company to utilize the trails for this purpose. Staff members of Daum Communications, a sponsor of Olle since Nov. 2008, have also walked the trail to raise morale and for team-building purposes. “We agree with the Jeju Olle inspiration,” said Choi Jeong Hye, the Daum Jeju regional manager. “Sometimes we enjoy the Olle trail as a team or as a division. It is an event, or team workshop or division workshop, for team building.”
Daum plans to release Olle Radio next spring through Daum Next Generation Foundation, the company’s non-profit organization. Since the program is in the early stage of development, Choi was unable to elaborate, but she stated that Olle radio would be a way for hikers to listen to the history and significance of the area while they walk the Olle. The foundation hopes to use the recordings for archive purposes.
The Olle trails are completely open to the public and encourage independent, solitary excursions without the constant presence of guards or on-site employees. There is no need to register or purchase tickets, stand in lines or undergo any of the bureaucratic functions often associated with public attractions. Thus, corporations are presented with an attractive opportunity to conceive creative ways in which to link their personal brand identities to the Jeju trails. For instance, Kolon Sport has plans to utilize Olle in order to help establish the signature identity of their new product line - trail walking shoes.
“We plan to use Olle trails in the upcoming seasons,” said David Shin, Kolon Sport retail merchandising manager. The company plans to begin the campaign in April of this year. “Jeju Olle is the best option to promote our new walking shoes because Jeju Olle is very, very famous.”
This is not the first time that Kolon Sport has used Olle as an integral part of its advertising. “We did some marketing campaigns last year in September,” Shin said. “We did a co-promotion with Gore Tex. So we supported some tours.” The two companies sent more than 50 customers to the trails with the purpose of testing and promoting their products.
“We expect that our business for walking shoes will grow this year because of Jeju Olle trails,” Shin said.
In addition to the publicity gained by sending consumers on trips to Jeju, Kolon Sport can now be seen as having similar ethos as the Olle trails - eco-conscious and rural. Shin said he wanted to connect people to nature. “People will think that the shoes are connected with nature and not with the city.
Without intention, Olle has created a complimentary commodity which companies can use for team-building, incentives and promotions while, at the same time, increasing their brand-awareness and shaping their identity towards a more progressive, eco-friendly and family-oriented market.
Budget airlines Jin Air and Jeju Air are each offering tour packages to Jeju that include the Olle trails. Hotels, especially those near Olle routes, including the Hyatt and Haevichi, have put together promotional packages for both tourists and MICE participants, which include shuttles to and from the trails.
“Kolon Sport’s association with Olle has definitely increased our brand awareness with consumers between 20 and 40 years old,” Shin said. “Many Daum employees are from Seoul, so are very satisfied with Jeju and fantastic Olle trails,” Choi said.
Olle founder Suh is unconcerned by businesses using the trails for promotional or team-building events.
“I believe the Olle trails are made to embrace all different types of people from all different walks of life,” she said. “I hope that even if 20 people out of 2,000 feel calm and peace and happiness while walking the Olle trails, it’ll be good for the people and local businesses situated near the trails.
“The Olle courses can generate some income for the villagers living there. That is a good thing. But the ultimate goal is for people to walk the trail and feel happiness and calm.”
Suh’s only concern was that a large increase in the number of hikers could potentially erode the trails. So if you plan to bring your business to Jeju’s shores to walk in calm and peace and to find your own place of inner reflection, be sure to walk with respect and tread softly.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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