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[Opinion] More Tourism Woes

Posted August. 02, 2006 03:01,   

한국어

Shopping is one of the major pleasures of an overseas trip. Without shopping on overseas trips, travelers feel like they are missing something, despite breathtaking sceneries, wonderful cultural heritage and things foreign. With many shopaholics being out there these days, quite a few people go abroad to shop. They leave Korea with empty suitcases, enjoy shopping overseas with their credit cards and come back in new clothes and bags, throwing away their old clothes. To regret having spent too much is something that might happen afterwards.

As the number of overseas travelers soars and their spending increases, Korea’s balance of travel has been in the red. While having been in the black in 1998 and 1999, shortly after the Asian financial crisis, the balance of travel showed a loss in 2000 and the loss has been snowballing. The loss stood at $9.65 billion last year and measured $5.79 billion in the first half of this year alone. The balance of goods in the first half was a large surplus, but the current account balance posted a $267.6 million deficit largely due to travel balance deficits and skyrocketing spending on studying abroad.

However, it turned out that foreigners coming to Korea do not spend much. According to Visa, which surveyed the amount of credit card spending of foreigners who visited countries in the Asia-Pacific region, those who visited Korea spent 45 percent of their credit card consumption in hotels and duty free shops. A foreigner spends $396 with a credit card in Korea in the first quarter of this year on average, a mere 60 percent of the $656 which Koreans spend overseas. Foreigners respond that there is no place to spend their money even if they want to, demonstrating the poor state of Korea’s tourism industry.

The name of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism represents the will to make Korea a tourism powerhouse. The Korea Tourism Organization has vowed to make tourism a new industrial engine. But the tourism infrastructure is still weak. Foreigners complain that there are few tourist destinations worth visiting and goods are too expensive, even putting aside the language barrier. The main reason that foreigners do not open their purse in Korea is there is no attractive tourism content unique to Korea. Hong Kong and Singapore’s secret of success in becoming tourism powerhouse is “differentiation.” What would we differentiate? Just knowing the answer is useless without putting it into action.

Chung Seong-hee, Editorial Writer, shchung@donga.com