It’s now more than a year since the somewhat controversial launch of the Korea, Sparkling tourism brand. As I suspected at the time, people would get used to it in due course, and now the logo has become a familiar feature on the various tourist literature available.
The branding, together with the Han Style campaign and other investments in the tourism industry is all part of the effort to reduce Korea’s tourism deficit – an early priority of the Lee Government1
“Tourism is … a future growth industry, but the tourism deficit has worsened, with 12 million Koreans going abroad and merely 6 million foreign visitors arriving here last year. Korean visitors to Japan exceeded Japanese visitors to Korea. It is a very serious problem,”
President Lee is quoted as saying earlier this year.
Speaking purely as an observer, and based on only limited experience of KTO marketing, the political impetus and investment seems to be paying off. The KTO event at the KCC on Thursday was a marked improvement on previous marketing presentations, with both the content of the message and its delivery more convincing and committed. And the fact that we were entertained by Korea’s champion B-boys Last For One made the evening even more memorable.
The occasion was a reception to meet the Vice Minister for Culture, Sports and Tourism Mr Kim Jang Sil. A similar reception had been held in Helsinki earlier in the week to celebrate the launch of direct flights from there to Seoul. The well-prepared roadshow then came to London before heading back to Seoul. Unfortunately the Vice Minister was called back to Seoul early, so Kang Kwang-ho, the KTO Executive Vice President in Seoul (left), was the senior dignitary present.
Having been to a KTO-organised evening before I thought I knew what to expect. But things have moved on. We mingled over a glass of wine before the main event, being introduced to the various KTO dignitaries visiting from Seoul and watching the videos of Hyolee, Super Junior and Se7en on the overhead LCD screens. Suddenly we were puzzled when someone turned on some loud music and started clearing a space in the middle of the crowd. All became clear when, one after the other, five members of Last For One demonstrated their impressive breakdancing skills as a prelude to what was to come later.
We were summoned to the multi-purpose hall, and doing a quick calculation that the crowds were too big all to fit in to the space, and determined not to be caught outside with the British representatives of the Korean travel industry, I sharpened my elbows and barged my way Korean-style to the front, and managed to secure my favoured spot at the back corner of the seating area, where I can lean back against the rear wall. Yes, the people who didn’t manage to get in were talking loudly over their drinks outside, but I was far enough away from the entrance for it not to bother me this time round.
Korean Air and Asiana never got near the podium. Instead it was MC Seh Hyun Rho who gave us the presentation on the merits of Korea as a tourist destination. We started with an award-winning promotional video, which I’m hoping to be able to post on LKL shortly. And with the powerpoint presentation, this time round I thought to myself: if Louise heard this pitch I think I could persuade her that Korea could be on our holiday destination list. I’ll have to ask Ms Rho to re-run it sometime. It was interesting that the presentation included reference to trips north of the DMZ (Kaesong and Kumgangsan) as something to be included in your Korean vacation, and apparently soon it will be possible to travel to Baekdusan as well.
There were lots of nice pictures of Chejudo, including a beach with no-one on it. Rather a contrast with Haeundae beach in Busan, which according to the Chosun Ilbo recently set a couple of bizarre world records. But the most horrific statistic isn’t even a record: How on earth do you get 1 million people on to a beach in the course of a day? Jennifer Barclay mentions in her book how Koreans like to be in company when going to the seaside, but Busan seems to be taking things to extremes.
Next came the performances.
We were first entertained by the Jaguar Taekwondo team – slightly more grown up than Master Ha’s youngsters who often entertain us at these events. To a pulsating musical backdrop – including Barber’s Adagio to a drum ‘n’ bass beat, which worked surprisingly well – we watched some simulated fights, some energetic and graceful solo moves, including some athletic flips, and the inevitable kicks and punches which sent planks of wood flying.
Then followed two twenty-five string kayageums, first playing a Korean melody ending with an Arirang, then moving on to Lennon & McCartney. Those who have heard our regular duo Jeon Sung-min and Jung Ji-eun will be familiar with the concept of Beatles numbers played on Korean instruments, and somehow the slight contrast in tone between the silk strings of the Kayageum and the steel strings of Sung-min’s guitar provides for a more interesting listening experience than a kayageum duet.
I’m not sure that Pachelbel’s Canon played on two 25-string Kayageums accompanied by a rhythmic beat from the PA system is necessarily the best musical mix of traditional and contemporary, but as the aural backdrop for the first b-boy duet from Last For One it worked just fine. One of the cru, dressed elegantly with a hat and waistcoat, specialised in a robot dance – imagine Peter Crouch with the grace and rhythmic instinct of Michael Jackson and the flexibility of a contortionist and you’re getting close. Very impressive, while the agility and strength of the more conventional breakdancers rivalled anything we’ve seen in the gymnastics in Beijing recently. I’m hoping that someone captured it on video.
Raffle prizes were then handed out (unfortunately Peter Poole couldn’t get to the front to claim his prize fast enough, and some other lucky winner was drawn out of the hat.)
The usual buffet rounded off the evening, with copious supplies of wine. If you knew where to look there was also a bottle or two of soju passing round. Altogether a memorable evening which demonstrated Korean marketing moving up a level.
Note: the full 15-strong Last For One B-boy cru can be seen at the Thames Festival in September
- Huge thanks to Lee Hyung-wook, publisher and editor-in-chief of The East, for permission to use his photos
- Korea Tourism – What’s the selling point? – Marmot’s Hole, 21 Aug 2008
- See the minutes of President Lee’s first cabinet meeting, where the new tourism minister Yu In-chon is put on the spot (search the article for “tourism deficit”).