Why no tourism administration?
The Korean tourism sector, which enjoyed a brief boom thanks to the popularity of Korean products and entertainers, requires a makeover now with visitors sharply dwindling. Tourists to Korea decreased by nearly one million last year, down 6.8 percent from 2014. Tourists to neighboring Japan reached 19.74 million in 2015, up 47 percent from the previous year. Foreigners now crowd even the most remote parts of Japan, lured by a government-led cheap yen campaign.
For a few years, around the time the Korean Wave peaked in 2008, foreign visitors preferred Korea over Japan. Until the bilateral relationship soured between the two countries, the Japanese swarmed to Korea, mainly to see the locations where Korean dramas had been filmed. But few Japanese venture here now amid heightened anti-Japanese sentiment over territorial and historical disputes.
Japan doesn’t discriminate when it comes to attracting foreign visitors. Ryokan, traditional Japanese inns, now employ Koreans to draw more Korean visitors, for example. The government must retool its tourism policy and approach. All tourism powerhouses have government offices devoted entirely to promoting tourism. Japan established a tourism office in 2007, when it began to lose out to Korea in terms of the number of visitors. And last year, it finally reclaimed its crown.
Japan is also moving quickly to make a name for itself in duty-free shopping. In Korea, duty-free shops are mostly run by large retailers like Lotte and Shilla. Visitors enjoy the convenience of our duty-free shops because deductions are made on the spot. But duty-free shopping is limited since big stores are mostly within the capital and a few large tourism destinations. In Japan, about 19,000 shops nationwide offer tax-free benefits.
Tourism is a steady cash cow for the future. Japan has been eager to ensure its future. To compensate for the limits in its manufacturing sector, Japan has been doing all it can to promote a lucrative tourism service sector.
Korea still has appeal to Chinese and Southeast Asians, while Japan has succeeded in bringing in more foreigners to its remote areas by promoting winter festivals. Korea is rich in snow-peaked mountains and ski resorts. But our tourism policy is pitiful, with just one bureau under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in charge. The government needs to be more proactive if it wants to rescue and improve the nation’s tourism industry.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 23, Page 34