Interview with Park Yang-woo, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism of South Korea

Korea’s participation at FITUR 2020 as a partner country is very important as it coincides with the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Spain, says Park Yang-woo. Tourists visiting Korea from other countries have more than doubled from 7.8 million ten years ago to 17.5 million in 2019, and the country has become one of the world’s leading tourist destinations.

① South Korea has registered a significant increase in numbers of foreign visitors in recent years. What were the determining factors in this achievement?

ㅇThe number of foreign tourists in Korea more than doubled from approximately 7.8 million 10 years ago to about 17.5 million in 2019. With over a 5,000 year old history and a modern culture represented as “K-culture,” Korea has become one of the trendiest tourist destinations in the world. In particular, hallyu (Korean wave) has spread beyond Asia and across the globe, creating numerous tour products to Korea. In addition to the popularity of Korean electronic appliance brands such as Samsung and LG, today’s hallyu led by K-pop including BTS, and Korean dramas and movies, has raised greater awareness of Korea.

ㅇReflecting such trend, Lonely Planet placed Korea second on the “Best in Travel 2018” list. Likewise, Korea is rising as a new tourist destination in Asia. In particular, despite its geographical proximity to Tokyo and Beijing, Korea has a unique cultural heritage that differentiates itself from Japan and China. Korea has 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a distinct food culture highly acclaimed around the world, and a modern pop culture with diverse charms. Furthermore, Korea has successfully hosted two Olympic Games and one World Cup Game.

ㅇKorea ranked top for two consecutive years in 2016 and 2017 in terms of the number of international conferences hosted, as announced by the Union of International Associations. Likewise, Korea is a safe and great country to travel to, with quality infrastructure based on advanced information telecommunication technologies and convenient transportation.

② What new actions are planned to further boost tourism in the country?

ㅇFor the mid to long-term tourism development, the Korean government created an organization called the National Tourism Strategy Meeting chaired by the Prime Minister. The Tourism Promotion Framework Plan was established with the approval of this organization. The Korean government is improving visa policies and tourism infrastructure to make Korea an even more convenient tourist destination. In particular, the Korean government has several policies to promote regional tourism and is striving to keep up with the latest tourism trends to make Korea a more attractive destination. Let me explain one of the trends.

ㅇ I think everybody agrees that one of the most distinctive features of international tourism in recent years is to live like a local and have authentic experiences.

ㅇ In addition to visiting traditional tourist attractions, there is a growing demand for the opportunity to experience daily life like a local based on individual tourist preferences. In Korea, moving to another place and living there for about one month is very popular.

ㅇConsidering this trend, the Korean government newly introduced an international Korea tourism promotion campaign in September 2019 under the theme of “Make Friends and Live Like a Local.” In the future, the Korean government will continue to reinforce Korea tourism content by focusing on inbound tour promotions that highlight "exchanges with locals and opportunities to experience daily life like a local.”

ㅇIn addition, the Korean government is implementing smart tourism policies to improve the infrastructure and allow individual travelers around the world to conveniently enjoy tours in Korea. We will endeavor to leap forward and become a smart tourism leader.

③ Your participation as a FITUR partner coincides with the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Spain. How do you assess the growing attraction of your country for Spanish tourists?

ㅇThe year 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Spain. We want to take this opportunity to continue active exchanges between the two countries in various areas including tourism. In particular, when Felipe VI of Spain visited Korea in October, the king of Spain and the President of Korea signed a memorandum of understanding and the two countries designated the years 2020 and 2021 as the “2020-2021 Korea-Spain Visit Years.” This symbolizes collaboration between the two countries and will serve as a great opportunity to further strengthen the friendly partnership and the promotion of tourism exchanges.

ㅇKorea’s participation in the FITUR 2020 as a partner country holds significance as it coincides with the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and Spain. About 25 organizations, including the Korean government, major local governments, travel agencies and airlines will create a Korea pavilion in front of the Asian Pavilion entrance in an effort to promote Korean tourism under the theme of "Convergence of Tradition and Modernity."

ㅇ According to statistics based on a survey conducted by Korea, many Europeans who have visited Korea chose "history and cultural properties," "food and food tours," and "natural landscape" as major reasons for visiting Korea. As I said earlier, Korea boasts more than a 5,000 year old history with a rich culture and abundant natural resources. Korea's unique history, culture and tradition are kept alive. For instance, ancient capitals such as Seoul, Gyeongju, and Andong have age-old palaces and fortresses, and have developed a unique food culture. Korea has an abundance of tour contents that are sure to attract Spanish tourists, including mask dance experiences at the Andong Hahoe Village (a UNESO World Heritage Site); taekwondo experiences at the birthplace of the martial art, and learning to cook traditional Korean food at cooking classes.

ㅇ In particular, Korean food, including kimchi, bibimbap, bulgogi, and green onion pancake, is popular around the world as a healthy and tasty cuisine. A large number of foreign tourists visited Korea because they were attracted to its food culture. To Spanish tourists, this will be one of the many attractive aspects of Korea since Spain has a very rich and varied food culture itself.

ㅇ I think the Spanish are epicures, passionate, kind and warm-hearted people, very much like the people of Korea. For the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and Spain, I would like to promote Korea as a country that is halfway around the world but has many things in common with Spain.

④ Deseasonalisation is one of the most important objectives for any tourist destination. Which segments and activities are helping to boost the number of visitors to South Korea throughout the year??

ㅇ To tourists looking for an all year round vacation location, Korea is definitely an attractive tourist destination regardless of season.

ㅇKorea has four distinct seasons where you can enjoy beautiful natural landscapes, such as spring flowers and autumn leaves. Since the sea surrounds Korea on three sides and 70% of the land has mountains, there are plenty of things to enjoy throughout the year including beaches in summer and skiing in winter.

ㅇIn particular, Jeju Island, located on the southern tip of Korea, has a subtropical and mild climate all year round. You can enjoy diverse activities on the island ranging from surfing to paragliding. The island is a popular vacation spot visited by tourists from across the globe.

ㅇ Korea is a dynamic tourist destination with fun and exciting festivals like the Boryeong Mud Festival all year-round. Or, you can enjoy a quiet and peaceful experience at a temple surrounded by mountains. Templestay is a unique program in which you can spend a day at a temple while listening to the rain or looking at the snow-covered mountains creating unforgettable memories of Korea.

⑤ Globalisation and new technologies have driven many of the changes in world tourism over the last decade. What other challenges will influence the future of the sector in your country?

ㅇThe Fourth Industrial Revolution has created big and small changes across the global society. The revolution has already brought about various changes in the tourism industry as well in terms of tourist communication, tour product purchases and travels.

ㅇTourists around the world can plan their whole travel itinerary online, raising demand for free individual tours, use of mobile devices and experiential programs.

ㅇIn response to this changing trend, Korea is fully utilizing its advantage as a strong IT powerhouse to further expand free Wi-Fi areas; identify the latest travel trends through tourist database analysis, and to continuously provide personalized tour information.

ㅇOne of the recent noticeable changes is the raised awareness of environmental protection. Nowadays, responsible tours that minimize negative impact on the environment has risen as a major topic in the global tourism industry. Preparing for climate change and establishing a sustainable tourism environment will be the key success factors in this industry. In this regard, Korea plans to protect and promote tourism opportunities for future generations based on three values— environment, innovation and sustainability—and we also plan to carry out responsible production and consumption in the tourism industry in order to satisfy the needs of tourists of today’s generation and of the local communities.

⑥ Please could you also send us more information on South Korea, in the following areas

1) The most important places to visit.

ㅇFor tourists who visit Korea for the first time, the capital city Seoul is definitely a must visit. With beautiful landscapes, traditional palaces and high rise buildings, Seoul is a unique city where one can feel the calm and dynamism, the coexistence of tradition and modernity, as well as the latest trends.

ㅇApart from Seoul, there is a variety of recommended tourist attractions for European tourists depending on their individual preferences. If you want to experience urban modernity and rural atmospheres alike, take the KTX to Busan, a southeastern city in Korea. Busan is the 2nd largest and largest port city of Korea with a uniquely romantic coastal atmosphere.

ㅇIf you want to experience a unique local culture (female divers or local food) or try outdoor sports and activities like surfing, trekking and mountain climbing on a subtropical island, visit Jeju Island. Or you can go to Gyeongju or Jeonju to experience the authentic history and culture of Korea.

ㅇLastly, tours of the DMZ and JSA, which have become symbols of peace and reconciliation, are unique tourist resources that cannot be found elsewhere. You can experience the confrontation between South Korea and North Korea, divided by a border that cannot be crossed. It will also be an unforgettable experience to witness the continued ideological confrontation, which started in the 20th century.

2) Korean companies which are established in Spain or planning to set up in this country.

ㅇHome Appliances (Samsung, LG, Daewoo) / Automobiles (Hyundai, Kia, Ssangyong)/ Tires (Hankook, Kumho) / Construction (GS E&C) / Transportation & Warehousing (Hyundai Merchant Marine, Hanjin Shipping) / Other Manufacturing (Dongkook KDK, SK Lubricants, SK Innovation)

3) The main reasons and incentives for Spanish investors to invest in South Korea.

ㅇGeological merits

- Northeast Asia, where more than one-fourth of the global population resides, creates 25% of the global GDP.

- 61 cities, or a market of 498 million people, exist within a 2,000 km radius of Korea.

- Korea is the logistic hub of Northeast Asia.

ㅇ Gateway to the global market

- The Korean market has 50 million consumers with diverse and dynamic purchasing power (in particular Korea is the global testbed for IT, food, daily necessities, fashion, games and movies)

- Korea recorded a GDP of USD 1.53 trillion and a GNI of USD 38,260.

- Globally, Korea ranks no. 9 in terms of foreign reserves (2017) and no. 6 for exports (2017).

ㅇ Superior workforce

- Korea has a large high quality, skilled and highly educated workforce (70% of the people are between 25 and 34 of age and are college graduates – top level among OECD countries).

- In addition, Koreans are known for their diligence and significantly lower turnover rate compared to other Asian countries.

ㅇKorea’s world-class industrial competency can become a leverage in multilateral cooperation

- Korea has traditionally been a manufacturing powerhouse.

- In particular, Korea has maintained the biggest market share in the global manufacturing market (semiconductors, smartphones, displays, steel, chemical and lithium battery)

ㅇKorea as a business friendly country

- Korea ranked no. 5 in terms of ease of doing business as ranked by the World Bank in 2018 (world-class infrastructure—affordable and reliable electricity/water/communication as well as Korea’s intellectual property right protection, high quality of life, business friendly government policies, etc.).

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