Korea-Unique Tourism Plan Unveiled

by Kim Rahn ,  The Korea Times | 2008-12-12

Royal palaces will be more open to visitors and tour programs involving traditional and eastern religious cultures will be developed in a government effort to develop more "Korean-style'' tourist programs.

The government announced a long-overdue plan to develop Korea's unique cultural, historic and ecological resources into tourism attractions at a meeting of the Presidential Council on National Competitiveness and 16 related ministries and government organizations, Friday.

Restricted areas in five major royal palaces in downtown Seoul ― Gyeongbok, Changdeok, Changgyeong, Gyeonghee and Deoksu ― will be opened to the public one at a time by 2010. Also a package ticket for admission to all five and a PDA guide will be available.

Gyeongbok Palace will be a venue to introduce Korea's court ceremonies, while other various traditional ceremonies and traditional customs will be reenacted at other palaces.

The government will also develop religious-related programs such as temple stays, lotus lantern festivals, sutra recitals and Confucian school stays. A Zen Buddhism center will be set up in central Seoul.

``But these programs have already been run by the Jogye Order. Does it mean that the government will promote them more extensively, or improve their programs or access, or develop new versions or what?'' David Mason, a tourism professor of Kyung Hee University said.

In an effort to promote ``Green tourism,'' some 700-kilometers of railroad out of operation will be converted for use by tourists in the form of ``rail bike trails'' similar to one in Jeongseon, Gangwon Province.

For cultural programs, Myeong-dong, Insa-dong, Samcheong-dong, Hongdae and COEX will be designated as ``tourism districts'' where visitors can enjoy food and performances, and buy souvenirs. The government will also set up a large-scale culture center where non-verbal performances, traditional and pop music concerts and musicals will be presented all year round.

The administration will promote medical tourism and conventions, sectors where participants spend more money than conventional tourists. A one-stop system will be set up for medical tourists' visa issuance, immigration processing, hospital reservation, accommodation and travel.

Not only infrastructure but also hospitality aspects will be improved. Some 24 billion won will be allocated to produce four million copies of foreign language tour guides and placing information signs at tourist destinations.

An online accommodation guide will be made to provide information on all hotels, motels, youth hostels, condominiums and guest houses across the nation.

``The tourism deficit has decreased this year, as inbound travel has grown and outbound has decreased compared to last year because of the currency rate and Korea's active promotion overseas. But we need more fundamental measures to strengthen competitiveness in tourism,'' Kim Jang-sil, vice culture, sports and tourism minister said.

Tourism revenue this year is expected to reach $8.6 billion, up from 2007's $5.8 billion, while expenditure is estimated at $13.7 billion, down from $15.9 billion last year.

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