[FORUM]Exploiting the ‘Korea boom’

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[FORUM]Exploiting the ‘Korea boom’

In recent years, Korean entertainers have created a “Korea boom” in Japan and China, gaining celebrity status in all Asia and acting as civilian diplomats. The Korean boom started in 1997 when the television soap opera “A Star in My Heart” was aired on Hong Kong’s Star TV and was hugely popular among Chinese viewers. Afterwards, the Korea boom followed in other genres such as music and movies.
Recently, Korean popular culture has moved from the China region, Southeast Asia and Japan to take on North and South America as well. Not only did this phenomenon instill pride in Koreans about our culture, but also helped boost our international image. Such a boost is welcome in that it increases exports and encourages more foreign tourists to visit Korea.
But seven years after the Korea boom first occurred, there is a need to objectively evaluate the phenomenon. The Korea boom has led to an increase in the export of cultural content such as broadcast shows and movies, but the export growth rate is not going up as high as expected because of illegal pirated copies. The effect it has on increasing export of other products appears mainly in a few manufactured goods such as mobile phones, electric appliances and cosmetics, but it is mostly an indirect effect of forming a friendlier atmosphere with the buyers rather than a direct effect on exports themselves.
Tourism, thanks to the development of “theme tourist packages” related to the Korea boom, has risen 47 percent this year, recording 1.7 million tourists at the end of July. However, much of this increased tourism depends heavily on a few particular soap operas and celebrities and will not be a sustainable tourist attraction.
In other words, the Korea boom so far has been a celebrity-centered business strategy by entertainment and tourist companies and does not hold a systematic strategy concerning a cultural phenomenon. We have seen Hong Kong movies and Japanese cartoons take on Asia like a fever in the past only to fall out of favor with no one caring. Because culture is an emotional phenomenon, one cannot predict how and what kind of a new culture will lead to a boom. The same goes for the recent Korea boom.
Therefore, we need to find a way to sustain this boom and to use it effectively. So far, this Korea boom was only in commercial media, entertainment and tourism. Now the government needs to take advantage of the boom to boost our country’s image and to increase the export of knowledge-based content and products.
We must promote cultural exchanges and host joint cultural events with the Asian countries where the Korea boom has taken place to solidify the foundation of this boom. We would also need to train professionals in order to build up an infrastructure of cultural content production and to enhance the quality of this cultural production.
Also, we need to pursue a region-by-region export marketing strategy putting into consideration the cultural characteristics of the different regions.
In order to link the Korean boom with product exports, businesses should be encouraged to produce commercials related to the soap operas being exported, to link movie premieres with their corporate promotions and to use Korean cultural performances for their marketing.
We could develop tourist products using traditional Korean dishes and oriental medicine treatments that appeared in “Daejanggeum,” the wildly popular historical soap opera about a Joseon palace cook and physician.
Never before has such international attention been paid to our culture, and we shouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of this opportunity to pursue our economic interests.

* The writer is the president of the Trade Research Institute at Korea International Trade Association. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Hyun Oh-seok
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