Time to revamp our tourismJeju Island’s success in attracting an 11,000-strong Chinese tourist group is a great joint achievement by the Korea Tourism Organization, the Korean Embassy in Beijing and other related agencies. The massive group is expected to spend 40 billion won, with a ripple effect reaching 90 billion won in total.
However, it is too early to pat ourselves on the back. As the JoongAng Ilbo reported last year in a three-page feature story - titled “A sharp increase of Chinese tourists rings an alarm bell for us” - we should address the scarcity of accommodations as we prepare for the tsunami of Chinese tourists.
Since the report, our tourism infrastructure seems to have improved considerably as the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Seoul Metropolitan Government have built four more five-star hotels in Seoul and several shopping centers, not to speak of new tourist attractions. Yet we still have a long way to go until we meet demand, which still outpaces capacity. Last year, 1.87 million Chinese tourists visited Korea, a 40 percent rise from the previous year.
In addition to tourism infrastructure, we must launch a colossal revamp of the “software” involved, including hiring more qualified tour guides. The number of guides for Chinese tourists currently stands at 750, but 80 percent of them are working without certificates. They are the very ones who implant a negative impression in the hearts of Chinese not only by their poor linguistic ability but by forcing them to spend money at designated shopping centers.
The tourism authorities should shift their strategy from group tourism to targeted tourism that includes medical and casino tourism aimed at the rich. They must also pursue such incentive tourism as was offered by Baojian, a Chinese direct sales company that is giving excellent employees an opportunity to sightsee Jeju Island this month.
Above all, the authorities need to persuade Chinese tourists to revisit Korea by taking advantage of our friendliness, street order and clean environment. Needless to say, a vaguely negative attitude about the Chinese will only make us lose money.
The world is at war to attract more Chinese tourists. The latest success in Jeju demonstrates our capability to win the competition. Without thorough preparation, however, that achievement will end up as a fleeting phenomenon. Authorities must brace for their visits so that a dramatic increase of Chinese tourists will not bring unnecessary worries to us.