Local stars promote nationsThere is a picture of Jackie Chan smiling at the visitors to the Hong Kong Tourism Board near Seoul’s City Hall, on the 11th floor of the President Hotel. The poster invites people to visit Hong Kong, and nearby are a handful of pamphlets promoting the city’s attractions.
However, this is no travel agency. It’s a foreign tourism board, which serves as a diplomatic facility in Korea.
“The tourism board is an institution that allows people to get as much accurate information about the country through a reliable source,” says Kim Ji-in, a manager of the Swiss center in Seoul.
There are about 30 foreign tourism boards in Korea. Almost every country in Southeast Asia, a popular vacation destination among Koreans, has its own tourism board here.
European nations, such as Switzerland, France and Austria, have set up their branches in Seoul.
There are even provincial tourism boards for cities popular with Koreans, such as Las Vegas and Hawaii in the United States. Many of them are near the City Hall area and in southern Seoul.
To attract visitors, the tourism boards try to come up with interesting ideas for marketing schemes. These days the most popular idea is to recruit local celebrities, typically actors and singers, to help promote the country.
Last month, the Singapore Tourism Board chose Lee Hyun-woo, a popular singer, as their PR ambassador.
The board decided that his image fit the “green environment” of Singapore, because Mr. Lee, who is noted for voicing environmental issues, also served a few years as an ambassador of Green Korea, a local environmental collective.
Mr. Lee will be attending major events by the Singapore Tourism Board throughout the year. Earlier this year, he shot his cover for his latest album in Singapore.
“Star marketing” has been useful in attracting Korean tourists. The Swiss Tourism Board has hired celebrity couple Choi Su-jong and Ha Hi-ra as its PR ambassadors. The Swiss Center says its prime motive in hiring the actors was to promote the country as an ideal destination for families.
Last year, the Swiss attracted younger Korean travelers by hiring Jang Na-ra, a singer-actor.
Other European countries are adopting the trend as well. British Tourism Board chose Bi (Rain), an actor-singer who has an enthusiastic following among younger Koreans. He was selected after the British tourism board in Seoul held a poll last year to find the celebrity who matched best with the image of England.
Taiwan designated Jewelry, a girl band, as their star to promote “Visit Taiwan Year 2004.” Taiwan is currently developing upscale theme tour packages centered on hot springs, tea and golf.
Hong Kong Tourism Board have chosen Jackie Chan, its own martial arts star.
“He is an important cultural resource that will help promote Hong Kong in the long run,” says Yu Hwan-gyu, a representative of the Seoul branch of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
“He has a friendly image among Koreans and other international travelers,” he added
by Park Hyun-young, Choi Won-ki, Nam Jeong-ho, Ki Sun-min