|My Article on the Re-branding of Korean
Tourism towards Religious Experiences,
and needed improvements, published in the
Korea Times newspaper in October 2008
The Korea Times is the nation's leading newspaper in English.
To mark its 58th birthday, it ran a series of long essays on refreshing
and redirecting Korea's "brand image". The editors asked me to write
one on my opinion of where the national Tourism branding should steer
towards, as the third entry in that series. They posted it online on their
own site, but in a shortened form, so I have posted scans of the original
article here, along with my original text of the Recommendations.
|It started at the upper-left side of the front page...
|...and then it filled up page 5:
When they asked me to write up a separate listing of my "Recommendations for Upgrading Korean Tourism"
(above, lower-right) I wrote twice as much text as they asked for -- there is, unfortunately, just so much to
recommend... They only had space to print 3/4 of what I submitted, so here is my original text of that:
Recommendations for Upgrading Korea's Tourism Brand
• Probably our most important problem in attracting and satisfying international tourists, and in promoting Korea's
general reputation as a tourism destination, remains the language barrier. In particular, very poor English (what we call
“Konglish”) is still found on many tourism brochures, maps, information signs at sites and websites – especially those created
or maintained by local governments (provinces, counties and cities) or agencies such as the National Parks Authority. Text
filled with many mistakes to the point of incomprehensibility is simply disgraceful for modern Korea. There is no excuse at all
for this problem still being rampant; there are many native speakers living across the nation now, even in remote small towns,
and it takes very little time, effort and money for the local authorities to ask someone to edit their translated text before they
send it to the publisher. We have made efforts to solve this problem, but have often been ignored by local or agency
officials. National authorities ought to crack down severely on this, instituting guidelines for the correct usage of foreign
languages in all publications and even threatening punishments for offices that continue to put out ‘Konglish’ tourist
• It is widely known that Korean hotel prices are too high, while service standards remain mediocre. It is essential that the
government allow more hotels and motels of all price-levels to be constructed in Seoul and other constricted markets with
currently high room-occupancy rates. This will stimulate competition that will bring down prices and compel the higher-class
hotels to upgrade their staff-training and service to international standards of excellence.
• Many visitors to Korea, and even some of the international residents, have complained that information on
transportation, events, festivals, accommodations, restaurants and other services remains too difficult to find. There have
been some good beginnings on improving this situation, such as the Korea Tourism Organization’s website and Tourist
Information Centers, the Seoul Global Center and others, but we are still far from where we need to be. Much more budgeted
funds and focused energy must be allocated to improving these information services, and publicizing to potential visitors,
arrived visitors and international residents about where to find this information. Korea has a huge amount in a wide variety of
excellent attractions – let's allow people to find out about them, and attend!
• In particular, Korea now has many fascinating cultural festivals around the nation, but it is usually very difficult to find
clear and accurate schedule information about them – what is going to happen, and what does that mean (Korean terms like
“madang-samul-nori performance” are not at all helpful), and at what time? Also, clear and complete information on
transportation (both my car and public transport) to and from the festival sites is often lacking. Cultural-participation
opportunities such as the Temple-Stay programs are still too difficult to find precise and comprehensible information about, to
permit convenient access for those who don't know so much about the country.
• There are also technical problems with most Korean tourism-oriented websites, including those that people would use
to make reservations or buy tickets for events, festivals and transportation – many of them don't use proper up-to-date
security measures, require that only Microsoft's Internet Explorer be used, require that unsafe “Active-X” mini-programs be
installed for usage, or etc. Even the international residents here often cannot perform basic functions online, such as
reserving and purchasing train tickets.
• During the Visit Korea Years 2001-2002 project, for which I was a consultant, we made some progress towards having
basic information in English and other common languages available in cheaper motels and home-stay accommodations, and
also in having foreign language menus in restaurants at tourist sites. Six years later, we can see that there is still inadequate
progress in implementing those programs – there should be a national effort to make these basic services nearly universal in
• Ever since the Park regime declared it as a theme in the 1970s, it is endlessly repeated in all kinds of tourism
promotions and information-texts that the Korean nation and its culture has “5000 Years of History”. This is not even close to
being true, and all those international persons educated on the subject know that it is not, and the constant blindly-unthinking
usage of it simply exposes Korea to deserved ridicule. This nation actually does have one of the longest continuous national
cultures on earth, and should be contentedly proud of displaying the 2000 years of history that it actually has (by any serious
definition of “history” – old myths and bronze relics are not history). No nation on earth can compete with China on this
score, and Korean tourism authorities just look ridiculous when they try to claim an even longer history than its giant
neighbor. The truth about Korea's origins and past are fully admirable, the achievements of its three classical Golden Ages
were superb, and Koreans can and should find great pride in proclaiming and cherishing the realities of them, without ultra-
• In general, Korea's tourism authorities manage our sites and festivals and conduct the promotional campaigns from
their own point of view – what they think is interesting, fun, relevant or convenient. They remain set in their own point-of-view,
trying to show foreigners their own version of what they think will make us admire Korea, what will make them feel proud from
showing it. Especially in the case of trying to attract Westerners, there is too much about shopping, casinos, advanced
technology, expensive nightclubs and prepackaged cultural shows – not enough about authentic cultural discovery and
undisturbed enjoyment of natural splendor. They pay insufficient attention to what international visitors really want from their
trip to Korea, and their opinions of the experiences that the tourists actually have. Too much of the developmental and
promotional budgets ends up being spent domestically, on projects that make Koreans feel good but do little or nothing to
enhance the quality of international visitor’s experiences. Those at the leadership of Korean tourism, in both the public and
private sectors, should pay more attention to the true opinions of international people who are familiar with the country, and
reorient tourism services and promotions towards what we really find interesting and enjoyable about this place.