Upgrade the tourism industryIt is embarrassing to learn that Chinese group tourists are herded to at least six duty free and health food shops in Seoul all day. Some travel agencies are undercutting Korean tourism potential by chasing immediate profit instead of trying to promote and preserve Korean tradition and culture through sophisticated programs.
The Korean tourism industry expanded with the help of a surge in wealthier Chinese. The easy ride, however, deteriorated the quality in tourism programs. Fewer group tourists from China should not be entirely blamed on the retaliatory action by Beijing against Seoul’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.
Seoul instead should map out a blueprint to redesign tourism policy by stamping out abuses by agents who capitalize on cheap programs and addressing glut and over-competition among local travel agencies. It must seek to diversify and expand the tourist base beyond Chinese, who make up more than half of foreign visitors to Korea.
Each local government must work with neighboring cities to develop customized programs and services. Foreign visitors should have wider choices to experience Korean traditions and historical sites individually, instead of in groups.
Japan is a good example. Its ambitious tourism program has drawn Chinese away from Korea. It lifted visa restrictions, leading to bigger returns from increased foreign entries. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presides over tourism cabinet meetings, which include foreign and justice ministry members. The surge in tax refund shops also added to the appeal. We not only envy the 20 million foreign tourists to Japan, but also the amount they are spending in the country.
Tourism is a service sector that generates cash and jobs. Korea must upgrade its tourism industry to stimulate domestic demand.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 29, Page 34