Technology boost could benefit lagging tourism

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Technology boost could benefit lagging tourism

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Chinese tourist Lee Mung, 43, who visited Gyeongbok Palace last weekend, had no trouble getting information about the place without hiring a tour guide, thanks to an application she downloaded called “Gyeongbok Palace in my hands.”

As soon as she walked into the palace, the word “Geunjeongjeon” in Chinese popped up on her smartphone with an explanation: “a place where the king managed political affairs and received New Year’s greetings.”

When her smartphone screen said “Jagyeongjeon,” flowers bloomed and butterflies flew across the screen.

“I could be a king for a day and experience his life where he lived,” said Lee. “I was impressed with the flamboyant images and detailed explanations, but was more surprised at the technology to develop such an app, which made it all happen.”

“Smart tours” based on information and communication technology (ICT) are rising to become a future growth engine for the nation’s tourism industry.

In 2013, Korea was ranked 25th out of 140 countries on the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, according to data from KT Economics and Management Research institute, five places higher than it ranked in 2011.

Despite low evaluations for a lack of natural resources and price competitiveness, the Korean tourism industry was praised for its rich culture and top-class ICT infrastructure, which makes the nation’s tourism industry more competitive.

“As the demand for independent travel rises, related services and technology must also increase to match it,” Kim Eun-ji, a manager at KT Economics and Management Research Institute, said. “We need to improve ICT tourism infrastructure in order to strategically use the nation’s advantage, which is cultural resources.”

For example, the world’s first hologram theater, Klive, in Dongdaemun, attracts foreign tourists by showing concerts by YG Entertainment artists. The hologram concerts seem as real as live performances. Klive attracted 150 visitors per showing and had 30,000 concertgoers in total during its trial period in January; since February, it has charged 30,000 won ($29) per showing.

SM Entertainment plans to open its own hologram theater at COEX Mall in Samsung-dong this year.

“Success of the first Korean Wave was attributable to unique performances by talented artists, but the success of the second one depends on differentiated content by using ICT,” said the director of the digital content division at the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.

AD Ventures is a well-known app developer that created an app called “Medi Latte” to provide users with medical information. The company developed the app to provide Chinese tourists with medical information such as hospital locations, doctors’ profiles, medical expenses and more. The app provides online consulting and users can also make reservations.

The Small and Medium Business Administration is also joining in by using ICT to promote 23 traditional markets nationwide. The administration is considering ways to make shopping more convenient for foreign tourists, such as setting up Wi-Fi zones or developing apps with QR codes.

“The current trend is to obtain the latest travel information online via smartphones and share personal travel experiences on social networking services [SNS],” said AD Ventures CEO Hwang Jin-ouk. “Establishing a ubiquitous wireless Internet environment itself can attract a great deal of foreign tourists and young travelers.”

Smart tours are also essential to increasing the value of tourism. According to the Hyundai Research Institute, only 5.9 percent of the total GDP is attributable to domestic tourism and leisure - far less than the global average of 9.2 percent. The industry accounted for 6.4 percent of job creation in Korea, but the global average was 8.7 percent.

“The essence of smart tours is to graft ICT ideas onto tourism,” said Ahn Joong-gi, a senior researcher at Hyundai Research Institute. “In order to create additional value and new jobs, we need to combine tradition with technology.”

Experts have said that as the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics approach, Korea needs to expand its ICT-based tourism infrastructure. Providing tailored information about shopping malls, restaurants, accommodation and promotional deals based on big data would be a good start.

As an example, the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas gives customers smart devices with which to control different features of their rooms. After the smart service was introduced, the hotel’s revenue increased to $950 billion last year from $890 billion in 2011. Another smart hotel called Yotel in New York features a digital check-in system. The U.S. hotel and leisure company Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide introduced a digital key card operable on a smartphone.

Jo San-ku, CEO of online accommodation mediator Kozaza, said, “Travel tech is a new term which has appeared in response to the growing demand for Internet and mobile-based tourism content. Once smart tours are established, the industry is going to grow by attracting Seoul travelers to other regions.”

BY SOHN HAE-YONG AND KIM HAE-YOON [haeyoonk1311@joongang.co.kr]

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