[OUTLOOK]Web sites already lost World CupFewer than 60 days are left before the World Cup opening ceremony. Stadium construction has been completed and campaigns by local governments and civic groups calling for public order and courtesy during the event are in full swing. Television stations are showing progams on the training of security officers who will be the front line against possible terror attacks. Our exuberance is natural as we prepare for the greatest sports event in the world. But I am quietly worried about how many foreigners will visit Korea and where they will find the information they need to enjoy their visit.
Korea boasts a highly developed Internet infrastructure. The percentage of Korean households and businesses with high-speed Internet connections is higher than that of any other nation. Korea has the sixth largest number of Internet users in the world. That a street vendor selling snacks priced at 250 won(20 cents) a piece operates a Web site is no surprise. Naturally, we expect foreign visitors will not have a hard time finding what they need quickly, taking into account the degree of Internet related infrastructure in this country. But such is not the case. We cannot build accommodations on the spot to meet the shortage of lodging facilities during the finals. We cannot create tourist attractions from nothing. But Koreans should be able to provide necessary information on existing facilities on the World Wide Web, in which we are said to be more advanced than the Japanese. But the World Cup Web sites in Japan, the games’ cohost, surpass Korea’s in terms of the amount and quality of content. Content on the Korean Web sites are feeble and most are useless to foreign visitors since they are only in Korean.
The number of tourists visiting the two host countries depends on the quality of accommodation, restaurants and sightseeing and the degree of adequate information provided. Korean Web sites do not provide information on the prices of accommodation other than for luxury hotels. The online restaurant guides do not provide sufficient information or pictures of traditional Korean dishes, such as seolleongtang and bibimbap, which are new to most of our foreign guests. This is why more tickets for the matches to be held in Japan have been sold than those for the matches in Korea.
I traveled to Isakawa prefecture in Japan recently. This rural area is not hosting the World Cup games. But when I surfed the Internet to find travel information, I realized that my preconception that Japan may outrun Korea in terms of industrialization but not in the quality of Internet content totally missed the mark. Japanese tourism Web sites surpass their Korean counterparts in quality of information. My only consolation is that the Japanese mobile phones I saw at the airport looked crude compared with Korean handsets. I realize now that providing quality content is as important as establishing Internet infrastructure.
I would like to speak specifically to the Korean government authorities who still may not realize this point. More than 40 lower-level municipalities in Isakawa prefecture have Internet sites, and they provide foreign tourists a wealth of information. The chambers of commerce in local areas and tourism organizations have Internet sites introducing their tourist attractions. Various portals provide links to tourist sites. The Web sites of municipalities include links to travel sites.
I made reservations by exchanging several e-mails with the motel owner, despite the fact that the accommodations are located in a rural area. The owner kindly informed me not to ride a taxi from the bus terminal since it takes only two to three minutes to walk to the motel. The owner said that he would discount the lodging fee since we were in the low-demand season, and he also vowed to catch up with globalization, taking my visit as an opportunity.
If the Korean government entrusts the private sector with providing online information for foreign visitors during the World Cup finals, it shows a misunderstanding of the concept of providing services in the information age and ignorance of “digital divide.” Everyone should have the right to access information by means of a well-developed Internet infrastructure and the contents should meet the needs of all people.
Private industry may concentrate on providing online content on entertainment; the state must enhance the ability of people to get information from the Web. In this context, the government should take a look at the Isakawa prefecture Web site. Officials, who cannot surf the Web on their own, should take this opportunity to learn how to do it. Seeing is better than hearing.
The writer is a professor of mass communications at Hallym University.
by Kim Ok-jo