[Viewpoint] Tourism: The orphaned industry

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[Viewpoint] Tourism: The orphaned industry

One of the more serious problems facing our economy today is the large number of college graduates and other young people unable to fi nd good jobs. The percentage of unemployment among the young far exceeds the national unemployment numbers.

This has serious implications for the short term, but there are more serious long-term implications if a solution isn’t found to correct the job shortage. In fact, the entire stability of Korea’s social structure will be affected if a solution is not found. The solution, of course, is to find an industry sector or sectors that — with the appropriate government and private sector support — will result in significant job creation.

The Lee Myung-bak administration is fortunately doing better than most governments around the world in pursuing policies and programs that are helping the economy grow despite unfavorable conditions in the economies of Europe and the U.S. — our traditional export markets.

The administration’s green growth initiatives are excellent programs, and much has been done to promote activity in the construction sector, new technology, etc. Unfortunately, these initiatives have not resulted in enough new jobs for Korea’s young adults.

One of the problems is Korea’s past success. Korea has now become a developed economy and almost all sectors of the Korean economy, even in highly competitive ones, are mature, which makes it even more difficult to create new jobs. Looking carefully at the Korean economy, however, there is one sector that stands out as clearly lagging behind the world.

That sector is tourism.

Today tourism in Korea contributes a bit more than 7 percent to Korea’s GDP, while the world average is double that of Korea at 14 percent. The tourism industry should become a primary focus of private and public support and investment as it is the one sector that can contribute most significantly to the creation of jobs for Korea’s youth.

Tourism also has the advantage of creating jobs in an extremely broad range of areas and can attract students of many disciplines, widening the focus on science and engineering that has garnered the most interest and support from public and private initiatives.

The problem lies within history. Tourism has never been viewed as an industry in Korea. Manufacturing, financial services, IT, telecommunications and shipping are considered industries and have received private investment and the support of the government. Travel, recreation, shopping and entertainment are not considered industries and, historically, have been frowned upon as frivolous pursuits.

As a result, Korea lacks the infrastructure and facilities to be a major tourism destination as the numbers clearly show. Even Koreans would prefer to leave on holidays rather than remain in the country. Annually, more than 14,000,000 people leave Korea for destinations abroad while only 8,000,000 foreign tourists come to the country.

Given Korea’s proximity to China and Japan, Korea should be attracting more than 25,000,000 visitors each year. Imagine the jobs that would be created by 25,000,000 tourists coming to Korea each year who need to be fed, educated about Korea’s history and entertained.

It is time for Korea to recognize tourism as an industry and give it the status critical to Korea’s economic growth. At present, the responsibility for tourism policy resides with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The first step to make tourism a higher priority for government and private investment is to recognize that it is a vital industry and to shift its responsibility to an independent Ministry of Tourism or a ministry more accustomed to fostering industrial growth, such as the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, which has done an excellent job fostering Korea’s strong industrial sectors.

We must change our view of tourism, treat it as a strategic industry and encourage the government and private sectors to give it the attention it needs. If we do, we will create jobs for our youth.

*The wiriter is former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce Korea.

By Jeffrey Jones
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