It’s the quality, stupid!

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It’s the quality, stupid!

Since Korea simplified procedures for issuing visas to Chinese travellers this month, the number of tourists here from the Asian giant has already grown.

Regardless, our preparations for greeting them have fallen well short of our expectations. Some workers in the local tourism industry even say they don’t necessarily want to welcome visitors from China for various reasons, including embarrassment over the quality of hotels and lack of skilled tour guides here as well as prejudice against the country.

It’s a sad reality, considering that our neighboring countries - including Japan and Taiwan - are engaged in a fierce competition to attract the tens of millions of Chinese who travel abroad each year.

It is high time we thoroughly review our tourism policy as it relates to Chinese visitors.

So far, our strategy has been focused on simply increasing the number of foreign tourists. As a result, the government took the drastic measure of simplifying visa issuance procedures for Chinese tourists, despite some expected drawbacks. But greeting them without preparation only tarnishes the image of our country. Just imagine what Chinese tourists will think if they have to sit on a bus for an hour or two to get to a quality hotel outside the downtown core because there aren’t anymore rooms available in the city.

We need to approach the issue by raising the quality of our tourism infrastructure. The first step is address this at the very basic level. Chinese visitors typically express low satisfaction with their tours in Korea. Tourism agencies in China, therefore, typically must lower the price of packages to Korea as they try to fill up space on the trips. The only way to end the cycle is to upgrade the level of tourism here by fully realigning and revamping hotels, restaurants and shopping centers, and by developing value-added programs tied to medical tourism, culture and other areas.

As with other industries, tourism is a key ingredient for the prosperity of our country in the 21st century. China, which has just emerged as the world’s second-largest economy, has seen a boom in overseas travel as its people find themselves with more disposable income. But Chinese tourists account for just 2.7 percent of all foreigners who visit Korea. Experts say we have the potential to raise that to 20 percent if we can sell Korea as a “must-visit” destination.

Last year, Korea racked up a $32.5 billion trade surplus with China, but it recorded a big deficit in terms of tourism. We must take advantage of this golden opportunity to rejuvenate our tourism industry and map out a plan to draw as many Chinese tourists here as possible.
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