Hana Tour expands its programs to focus on those most in need
But financing such an elaborate trip or finding the opportunity to experience a new culture isn’t necessarily feasible for most people.
But that dilemma is what Hana Tour, the country’s largest travel agency, aims to rectify. Over the past five years, the tour company has taken the lead to find the best travel itineraries for the underprivileged, those who are financially struggling and the disabled.
“Traveling cannot correct all the problems people face in their everyday lives, but we are sure that travel can help inspire people to overcome their pain and struggles and talk more about their hopes and dreams,” said Park Sang-hwan, the chairman of Hana Tour.
“As a travel company, we know the value of these experiences and the potential benefit, so we are trying to collect a part of our proceeds in an attempt to find new hope for the underprivileged and new-generation talents.”
In 2010, Hana Tour set out to systemize these programs by establishing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) team.
It has three approaches: Helping the underprivileged take trips overseas, bringing aspiring talent into the industry through training, and implementing volunteer activities for the public.
In diversifying its programs and adding content over the past few years, it has also welcomed support and cooperation from other companies and groups.
Hana Tour collaborated with the Korea Energy Agency in September to organize a trip to Singapore for young talent looking to establish businesses in the energy industry. The trip aimed to give them a chance to experience how energy was used in Korea and elsewhere.
And later this month, the Arts Council Korea plans to bring disadvantaged children to China to teach them more about traditional Korean music.
Seeing the world in a new light
The company’s basic idea behind the travel program for the underprivileged is to provide them experiences they may never have otherwise. Hana Tour uses its overseas network with the intent to give its travelers the chance to shape their global perspectives.
“The activities we have for the underprivileged are also available in Korea, but we see how much more open these people become in an exotic place,” said Lee Sang-jin, the manager of Hana Tour’s CSR Team, adding that overseas programs are much more effective.
“[The participants] become a bit more relaxed and more open to accept new things, especially the children. [They] are more eager to share their thoughts, and we can really see that they are inspired by even the littlest things they encounter during their travels.”
Hana Tour has three special overseas programs so far.
The first, a package called the Very Special Honeymoon, organizes trips for newlyweds who couldn’t afford a romantic getaway after their wedding.
The other two are more family oriented, with one focusing on the family unit and the other on children.
Honeymooners usually opt to go to popular beach towns like Boracay in the Philippines.
But the participants aren’t necessarily all young. Some have been married for decades and never had the luxury to take time for themselves, either because they had to work or because they had families to support.
“One time in Cebu, one of the travelers, who was in his 50s and whose legs were disabled, was so delighted to finally taste sea water. He said he finally knew just how salty it was after hearing about it,” said Min Ji-hye, who works at Himchan Hospital, who joined the Hana Tour trip at the company’s request to report about her experience.
In November, Hawaiian Airlines will also collaborate with Hana Tour to fly six couples out to Hawaii on a seven-day trip. As the size of these kinds of social contributions has increased, the company has sought to diversify its target audience, separating them into different projects.
Rather than having participants join in already-existing packages, Hana Tour provides various itineraries to best cater to the wishes of its first-time travelers.
The District Travel School program, for instance, was established to show young children that there is a world out there that’s bigger than their comfort zone. The tour takes them to different Asian cities, where they learn not only that each country has a different culture, but how important it is for them to proudly represent their own.
The children are also encouraged to volunteer in the towns they visit. In a previous program, the children visited a remote town near Guilin, China, where the total population consists of about 20 people. The children were given cameras to document their experiences as well as the local families.
Similarly, in Manila, Korean participants got the chance to interact with their local counterparts and even invited them back to spend a night in their hotel rooms. After the trip, some of the children reportedly approached officials on Hana Tour’s CSR team and told them that they wanted to become social workers one day to help those in need.
“By planning these trips, we’re trying to pick out all the unnecessary grass that is growing in children’s hearts, and by arranging different activities during their travel, [we hope] the spots where bad grass once grew will be filled with something more nutritional,” Lee said.
Helping a new generation of travelers
The company runs an overseas training program for college students who aspire to make a career in the tourism industry but lack first-hand experience.
On their trip, they get an opportunity to evaluate how each country uses its cultural resources to attract more visitors. They are also tasked with coming up with tactics and strategies to better promote Korea as a travel destination.
“It hasn’t been too long since tourism has started to be seen as a viable industry here,” Lee said, and there surely aren’t many who are majoring in tourism studies. Because the tourism industry is still in its infant stages, we need to give it a bigger push to make it more stimulating and attractive.”
Each year, Hana Tour recruits 20 to 25 college students to take part in what it calls the Tour Challenger, taking them to places like Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, Bangkok, New York and various cities in China. The company asks applicants to the program to write up strategies during the selection process promoting the city on the itinerary.
Students admitted to this program advance automatically to the interview stage when applying for work at Hana Tour.
“Tour Challenge continues to give me something,” said Yun Ji-su, who traveled to India via the program in 2010. “It initially fostered that sense of challenge and adventure in me, then showed me how to feel accomplished and brought me unforgettable memories.”
Providing options for the public
After years operating as a travel agency, Hana Tour saw that more tourists were looking for unique experiences and not necessarily interested in hitting historical attractions or eating local food. So the tour company has expanded its agenda to assist travelers seeking to help out people in need during their break.
Volun Tour, a play on volunteer and tour, was the result. The program is outlined for those wishing to travel and do some good at the same time.
Usually half a day is committed to preparing a meal for a local community in need - the company even purchased a bread machine for the cause. Participants in the program usually start preparing lunch in the late morning and finish around 4 p.m. after the dining area has been cleaned. They can then use time in the evening to relax.
“This program is particularly popular among parents with children since they can catch two birds with one stone: It’s family time as well as an educational trip,” Lee said.
The program has been well received since its launch, the company just established a new leg this year for the Volun Tour in Laos after operating sites in Cambodia since 2009, and Mongolia since 2011. It is also considering launching volunteer programs in other countries to give travelers more options.
“I felt ashamed of myself for always wanting more and more when I looked into the eyes of the children in Mongolia. They were so innocent,” said Seo In-wu, who participated in a Volun Tour program there. “I filled my camera with Mongolia, and I filled my heart with joy.”
BY LEE SUN-MIN [email@example.com]