Korea's Tourism Charm Enliven Energy, Enthusiasm, and Empathy
SEOUL, KOREA — Tourists abound at Paris as they find the Eiffel Tower delightful. The Statue of Liberty in New York is jammed with people day and night. In Asia, China’s Great Wall seduces travelers to form a long human line along its fortifications. Nearby is Korea, where Korea Tourism Organization (KTO)’s President Mr. Lee Charm is ready.
According to the UNWTO (World Tourism Barometer as of 2010), France and the United States are two top tourist destinations, boasting the number of foreign visitors and profit, with China coming in each third and fourth. These leaders in the world’s tourism industry share the same attributes: historical landmarks and monuments that attract millions of travelers. Korea is behind, with over twenty countries ahead in the tourism industry. Yet the number of foreign tourists is increasing every year; KTO says about 9.7 million tourists visited Korea last year alone.
KTO Chief Lee Charm at the 189th Smart Society Leaders Forum
At the 189th Smart Society Leaders Forum, with his flawless and friendly Korean accent, Lee’s speech was warmly received. While his message was being delivered, the audience was agreeable and often laughed at his wit and insight. Participants found everything consistent other than his origin; he is a German-born naturalized Korean. His journey began 34 years ago.
When Mr. Bernhard Quandt first arrived in Korea, he found, “A lot of interesting things that he could not see before.” Years later, Bernhard also found a new identity: Mr. Lee Charm. As a non-ethnic Korean, Lee took on a few acting gigs and wrote about his experiences and ideas. In 2009, he was selected to head the KTO.
KTO’s Chief believes the future will be all about “Contents” competition. In order to be ready, “We need to make a change. Our Korean society is heavily centering on functionality such as cars and hardware. I think we need a ‘cultural revolution’ toward people-centered society,” said Lee.
“Koreans are always busy, and just cannot afford time to think for a while. So people notice there are critical issues which need to be addressed, but nobody is willing to walk the talk, to the extent that we would rather ignore than try to look into their root causes. I think the only answer for all of these problems lies in tourism.”
“Also, we need to embody a culture which allows for extra time, so that people can take time to rest for a while. Lee started his “refresh vacation campaign” right after he took charge of the organization. The program promotes two-week vacations. Despite a multitude of objections, SK and Samsung Group have already acted on his suggestion, which later resulted in a positive reaction from their employees. “Socially, we need to let people know why it is important to create a new travel culture.”
“‘Gee’ make good things happen in life,”
In Korea, Mr. Lee feels mystic energy that exists nowhere else. “It is something I cannot explain, and is very different from what I could feel in Germany or Japan”, he continued. “Koreans like the number ‘3’, and there are three energies: Heung, Jeong, and Gee. “
“Gee” refers to powerful and positive energy. People enjoy hiking around accessible mountains in Korea, and they find the energy “Gee” at specific spots like Jiri-san and Baekdu-daegan. “It is obvious that the energy exists there. I also know that ‘Gee’ makes good things happen in life.” One day, the Blue White called him, “After I climbed the top of Jiri-san, I was recommended to lead KTO.” “Soon after, many people listened to my story and visited there,” he grinned.
“Heung” means enthusiasm. He thinks “‘Heung’ is in the air.” “We hear about NANTA, always a full house play, being very popular with foreigners,” he laughed. “But not with Koreans.” The non-verbal performance was created in Korea where Heung is prevalent. And “’Carpe Diem’ is a constant reminder of the ideals which should be important to Koreans, having fun when it is available.”
The strongest of them, Jeong as empathy energizes emotions and also means generosity. Also it is traditionally essential. ”Sometimes Korean people say they can persevere no matter what, when in fact logic and reason brutally state otherwise,” says Lee.
All three elements work in harmony with one another, “From there, the real Korean spirit comes alive, and it is something that other cultures do not and cannot possess.” He continued, “Sometimes we may find one or two similar energies outside of Korea, but such will not go far. Only the three energies working in succession with one another can increase appeal and attraction.” KTO’s Chief thinks this is what sets K-Pop apart from J-Pop, though the latter being vastly more profitable in Japan.
Afterwards he played three introductory videos representing all three elements.
“Touch Korea” program and “Culture of Communication”
His answer lies first in, “Offering motivation based on Korea’s past achievements.” Tourists want to visit many places and value their time during a stay. “Foreigners can feel inspired when they learn about how Korea has been able to successfully build up its economy. “ Mr. Lee then prepares the “Touch Korea” program, with which foreigners can enjoy Korean contents under several categories like unique philosophy and interesting culture. He wants to create a trend of “Culture of Communication”. This should embody people being more open to discussion; free to maximize each individual’s creativity and potentials, which will subsequently lead to influencing many different industries. Lee’s answers are clearly laid out, and they will find their places only where the three energies are found together: Korea.