Revamping Korean tourism

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Revamping Korean tourism

Korea has become a hot tourism destination for foreigners, largely thanks to Hallyu fever across the globe, and more specifically, to the remarkable economic growth of China and Southeast Asian countries. With the number of foreign visitors reaching a whopping 10-million-a-year basis, tourism has rapidly emerged as one of the major service industries to support our next generation.

However, Korea has a long way to go before becoming a really attractive spot for foreigners given its prevalent rule-of-thumb business model of luring in as many foreigners as possible at cheap prices without sufficient preparation, which lowers the quality of our tourism industry and reflects badly on us in general. As the JoongAng Ilbo’s special series on our tourism industry clearly showed, the chronic malaise is still damaging Korea’s image, ranging from tourist lodgings far away from our attractions to substandard meals to compulsory purchase of goods at shopping centers designated by travel agencies.

Under such circumstances, we can hardly expect foreign tourists to return home with good tales about Korea. The experience will not only hurt Korea’s image, which has been so polished by the Hallyu boom, but also dampen foreigners’ expectations about the country.

All the problems originate from a deep-rooted malpractice among local travel agencies. They have to make up for their massive financial losses - from abnormally low prices of tour packages offered by travel agencies overseas - through secret commissions from tourists’ purchase of goods at shopping centers. To correct the practice, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism must come up with fundamental solutions to the problem.

The government and industry also should do their best to nurture as many qualified tour guides as possible armed with a sufficient knowledge of the history, culture and natural splendors of Korea. If the authorities let unqualified guides explain Korea’s culture and history to our guests from overseas, there’s no hope that anyone will come back or recommend their friends take the same crummy trip.

Above all, the government must focus more on the quality of tourism than on the number of foreign visitors. Instead of sticking to its old habit of forcing visitors to go to shopping centers to spend money, the industry must come up with diverse, high-quality tour packages that exploit our rich cultural and culinary history and also relate to Hallyu. The government must put into action a strong will to foster the tourism industry as one of the most powerful growth engines for the future.

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