Tourism Ministerial Meeting
to Solidify Cooperation

Korea, China, Japan poised to leap forward as tourism hub

The tourism ministerial meeting of Korea, China, and Japan will be held in Busan from June 22-25 with the goal of promoting regional tourism cooperation among the three nations. The following are excerpts from NewsWorld's exclusive interview with Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Yu In-chon regarding the meaning and other details of the conference -- ED.

Q: Please comment about the meaning of the meeting of tourism ministers from Korea, China and Japan.
A: The heads of state of Korea, China and Japan got together in Indonesia in October 2003, and came up with a package of agreements on the promotion of tourism cooperation and exchange among the three nations. As follow-up to the summit agreement, the first tourism ministerial meeting was held in Hokkaido, Japan, and the second one took place in Qingdao and Dalian, China. The third meeting will be held in Busan and Cheongju, Korea.
The upcoming meeting is very meaningful as it is intended to let the three nations leap forward as a tourism hub in the 21st century by laying the groundwork for further cooperation at both the state and private levels. Toward that end, I hope the relations among the civilian concerns will be further enhanced as well as the cooperation at the government level.

Q: Can you touch on the timetable of the meeting and related events?
A: The conference will be held for four days from June 22 with a gala opening ceremony in Busan, a world-class oceanic tourism city. The ceremony will be followed by a series of events such as meetings of tourism ministers and relevant representatives. The closing ceremony will be held in the traditional and cultural city of Cheongju, where the participants will decide the venue for the next session.
Major events of the main conference include the official opening ceremony and welcoming dinner with the attendance of 400 delegates from the three nations at BEXCO. On the second day, key agendas will be announced while the ministers will sign a Busan declaration at Nurimaru on Dongbaek islet
On June 24, the participants will attend a closing ceremony and farewell dinner in Cheongju. On the sidelines of the conference on June 23 a tourism forum will be held to promote trilateral cooperation to help the nations steer toward realizing their goal of being a 21st century tourism hub. On June 24, representatives from tourism associations and industries will get together to rack their brains for the development of joint tourism marketing for the promotion of regional tourism.
We also plan a meaningful program for a firsthand experience of culture and art of the three nations. For instance, the "Festival Fair of Korea"to be held in Busan will provide the participants with opportunities to experience the unique Korean culture and art in an open session. The session will be open to local residents as well as the conference participants so that they can exchange greetings.

Q: What are the specific agendas to be discussed during the tourism ministerial meeting.
A: First, proposals will be submitted for the purpose of the removal of various barriers in the way of tourism promotion among the three nations. They include a simplification of immigration processes, the expansion of flights and the establishment of a system for the safety of the passengers and efficient crisis management.
Second, the participants will also discuss means to further cooperate for the development of sustainable and attractive tourism items. Ways for development of environment-friendly tourism and joint marketing will be sought with the participation of tourism-related industries, academies and research institutes. The conference will also pave the way for the three nations to jointly cope with the global issue of climate change as part of efforts to promote regional tourism.
Third, we will also discuss steps to expedite cooperation among local autonomous governments and private companies. Exchanges of youth tourists and the setup of sister city ties will be feasible measures. To attract foreign tourists,
the three nations will map out joint devices for upgrading the brand values of their tourist destinations.
Lastly, cooperation methods will be recommended for the expansion of exchanges of human resources and the sharing of knowledge. A joint crisis management mechanism will be set up for foreign tourists. Close cooperation is needed to promote tourism industries of the three nations in the areas of traffic, accommodation and food. As a means of promoting intra-regional tourism, the participants will also discuss how to increase cruise tours linking major tourist destinations. The government representatives will also focus on the joint promotion of projects in non-regional tourism fairs in the future.

Q: Would you describe the measures to reduce the tourism deficit and attract 10 million inbound tourists?
A: Over the previous several years, the nation's tourism market grew remarkably. In 2007, the number of foreign tourists reached 6.46 million while departures amounted to 13.32 million. Japanese people accounted for 37 percent of the total foreign tourists. Last year, the number of Japanese tourists dwindled, affected by the sluggish economy in Japan.
The steady appreciation of the Korean won has also contributed to a contracting inbound tourism market. As a result, the inbound market grew only 5 percent from a year earlier. The strong won has prompted departures, which increased an average of 10 percent quarterly. Due to the widening gap between the inbound and outbound markets, the imbalance in the tourism industry continued to grow to surpass $10 billion in deficit for the first time. Such a situation can be called a crisis for the tourism sector. But I believe such a crisis can be turned into an opportunity for a second leap should we check and improve the current market and system.
The government shares the notion that the tourism industry is a future growth engine with the high effect of generating added value. President Lee Myung-bak also has a deep interest in strengthening the competitiveness of the tourism industry and improving the trade imbalance.
To sharpen the competitive edges of the tourism industry, we need to consider applying the same taxation to the tourism industry as other exporting industries.
We have been developing various tourism programs with a focus on attractive and specialized tourism sources. For instance, the Daejanggeum tour saw brisk sales to 300 people in Hong Kong in a short span of time despite high prices, which reflects the "hallyu"(Korean Wave) effect now prevailing in Southeast Asia. There was an increase of 30 percent in the number of Taiwanese people visiting Jeju Island, prompted by the introduction of a special tourism program in Taiwan. These cases well prove that the inbound market will prosper should there be attractive enough tourism programs.
The government is also poised to lend its support for the promotion of medical tourism and international convention tourism with high added values. Korea's medical service has already reached the level of advanced nations. Equipped with price competitiveness, the nation will likely solidify its status as the Mecca of medical tourism. The inbound market will further grow should there be a depreciation of the Korean won and an expansion of flights.
Korea is scheduled to host a series of international mega events such as 2011 Daegu IAAF World Championships in Athletics, 2012 Yeosu Expo and 2014 Incheon Asian Games. The arrivals of foreigners will greatly increase ahead of the events with enormous public relations effects that will generate indirect demand. I believe the nation will be able to witness the arrival of 10 million inbound tourists should the aforementioned measures be implemented toward developing the tourism industry. For this purpose, visa process should be simplified at the earliest date as possible.

Q: Can you tell us about the strategy to induce Chinese tourists?
A: I'd like to cite the need to promote intra-regional tourism in Northeast Asia for us to attract 10 million inbound tourists. Compared with the EU nations, which register 60 to 80 percent of intra-regional tourism, the portion of Korea's intra-regional tourism reaches less than 50 percent. The number of Chinese tourists account for less than half of the Japanese ones. So we need to focus more on attracting Chinese tourists.
Among the 40 million outbound Chinese tourists, only 1 million visit the nation. To address that matter, the government is considering supportive measures for the setup of a Chinatown in Seoul. Immigration will be simplified and regulation will be eased for installing cable cars. We will also take steps for the expansion of shuttle flights with China and Japan.
In the long-term, cooperation is needed to deepen understanding through the promotion of exchanges of youths, local governments and sports. We will initiate a series of public relations activities to raise Korea's image among the potential Chinese tourists including elderly citizens, business people and group travelers. An increasing number of signs in Chinese will be installed for Chinese tourists while more restaurants and accommodations targeting them will also be set up.

Q: What are the plans to attract Japanese tourists?
A: As I briefly touched on the tourism imbalance, the number of Korean tourists who visited Japan amounted to 2.60 million in 2007, 22.8 percent up from a year earlier. But the number of Japanese tourists to Korea decreased to 2.24 million, 4.4 percent down from the previous year. Japanese travelers accounted for 33.4 percent of the total arrivals of 1,601,453 in the first quarter, 4.6 percent down from the corresponding period last year. This was due to a move to refrain from overseas trips affected by a sluggish economy and soaring oil prices. Furthermore, the young generation in their 20s have begun to avoid overseas trips.
To attract more Japanese people, we need to adopt a differentiated strategy by focusing on attractive factors of Korea as a tourist destination. Air flights between Korea and Japan should be expanded while more destinations in provincial areas should be cultivated. The ministry will try its utmost to upgrade the image of Korea through the "Korea, Sparkling"campaign. Besides efforts to raise the image, we will also put a priority on developing various tourism programs for leisure activities, family tours and traditional culture travel.
There are also accumulated tasks regarding tour guides, tourism signs and the promotion of a tourism environment in local areas. Along with the efforts by local governments to promote the tourism industry, the ministry will push ahead with steps to attract as many foreign tourists as possible.

Q: We would like to hear about how you plan to raise the overseas image of "Korea, Sparkling"as the representative tourism brand of Korea.
A: What matters most regarding tourism promotion is that Korea has remained unfamiliar to foreigners. In other words, while Korea has been regarded as a nation that rose from the ashes in a short period of time, it has largely failed to impress foreigners as a tourist destination. So we need to impress them with a good image so that they can feel familiar with the nation.
I feel happy to see the successful operation of "orea, Sparkling"since its debut in April 2007 after a two-year development period by the Korea Tourism Organization. Despite a relatively short time, it has seen considerable results. "Korea, Sparkling"needs to raise its recognition and solidify its brand identity.
In the initial stage, we launched the tourism brand in the global market and plan to increase recognition through PR and commercials run on world-class TV and media. Ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August, the KTO has been running ads on metropolitan buses in Los Angeles while hosting "Korea, Sparkling"events for foreigners residing in Korea.
In the second stage, we will press ahead with marketing activities through both online and offline channels to maintain brand identity. We will explore fan groups in favor of "Korea, Sparkling"to solidify our cooperation with them. Through direct tourism marketing, we will exert our best efforts to attract inbound tourists and such plans will be pursued on a gradual basis in the years to come. nw

Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Yu In-chon

(from above photo) A fireworks display brightens up the sky over the Gwangan Grand Bridge in Busan; Cheongnamdae, a presidential retreat with a breath-taking landscape,; the Chungju Lake,; and the Jikji Pavilion containing the oldest metal printed book in Cheongju,; the last three in Chungcheongbuk-do.

Hallyu stars, including Bae Yong-jun, Lee Byeong-heon, Lee Yeong-ae, Choi Ji-woo and Dongbangshingi.

Singer Rain and B-Boy's Break Dance Group

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