[INTERVIEW] Prepare for hallyu tourist spike after pandemic: Minister of Culture

Korea's time


[INTERVIEW] Prepare for hallyu tourist spike after pandemic: Minister of Culture

Minister of Culture Hwang Hee / Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
Minister of Culture Hwang Hee / Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism

Culture Minister Hwang Hee vows to upgrade infrastructure to prepare for post-pandemic tourism boom

By Kwak Yeon-soo

Culture Minister Hwang Hee experienced the ever-growing influence of hallyu, or the Korean wave, on a recent trip to France. Some of them were so surreal he couldn’t believe his eyes.

Looking back on his visit to a “Squid Game” pop-up store and his meeting with K-pop fans at the Kick (“K-pop is for cool kids”) Cafe, a cafe concept in Paris for music lovers popular Korean, he said what he saw was “breathtaking”.

“Even though it was raining, visitors were waiting in a long queue outside the store that sells Squid Game products. The line of people waiting to enter wrapped around the building at least twice! ” the soft-spoken minister said enthusiastically in a recent interview with The Korea Times.

“It wasn’t just the drama that became a breakthrough success. When a Korean language class of 40 students opened at the King Sejong Institute this year, more than 1,000 signed up. most of the hallyu fans I met at the Kick Cafe seemed to understand my korean, which surprised me. “

Hwang said that Korean movies and TV series have become increasingly visible to global audiences. Over the past two years, global demand for Korean content has grown by around 60 to 70 percent, he said.

He attributed the success of Korean content to active consumers who enjoy traveling abroad.

“Before the pandemic, around 30 million Koreans (60% of South Korea’s total population) traveled abroad each year. This is a lot compared to Japan, where only 7 million people travel to the foreigner every year, ”he said. “Koreans tend to be (relatively more) open to accepting diversity and differences, and they adapt very quickly to the global norm. I think these characteristics are part of the reason why Korean content has been able to win the hearts of global audiences. “

This year has proven that “Parasite” is not a one-time pop culture anomaly. Youn Yuh-jung became the first Korean actress to win an Oscar for her role in “Minari” and “Squid Game” became Netflix’s most-watched show of all time, ushering in a new era of hallyu.

Korean content has been speeded up and over-watched by viewers around the world. The other global streaming services, Apple TV + and Disney +, have also started releasing new Korean titles on their platforms.

The minister declared that he proposed to his French counterpart to study the concept of “Cultural Olympics”. He argued that if Korea, a new cultural powerhouse, teamed up with France, a center of rich and diverse cultural heritage, the Culture Olympics could have tremendous social and economic benefits.

“Compared to the traditional Olympics which attract around 100,000 to 200,000 people, the Culture Olympics could attract one to two million spectators. As for the latter, there are over 100 items which can be divided into competitive or non-competitive forms. defends the Olympic spirit of peace and harmony, “he said.

Hwang intends to send the proposal to culture ministers from 200 countries participating in the Olympics in January to garner support from like-minded leaders.

Culture Minister Hwang Hee, front right, joins K-pop fans at Kick Cafe, a concept café for K-pop in Paris, on November 14.  Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
Culture Minister Hwang Hee, front right, joins K-pop fans at Kick Cafe, a concept café for K-pop in Paris, on November 14. Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism

The minister’s other bold dream is to develop inbound tourism using cultural content and digitization.

Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Korea had around 17 million incoming visitors in 2019. However, the number of visitors to Korea fell to 2.52 million, a drop of more than 85%.

Hwang predicts that travel will increase after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everyone’s travel plans, but I am confident that there will be an increase in demand for travel once the pandemic ends. Millions of people have become curious about Korea. after watching “Squid Game” and the “Feel the Rhythm of Korea” tourist videos, “he said.

“To say that I am concerned that our tourism infrastructure is not sufficient to meet the demand of travelers in Korea is no exaggeration.”

Noting that the attractiveness of Korean culture is an important driver of tourism, Hwang unveiled a culture-driven urban regeneration strategy. The Ministry of Culture has selected 18 cities across the country, including Mokpo, Gangneung and Suwon, which will be given a facelift thanks to government funds.

“Most of the countries that have achieved urban regeneration have used the arts and cultural activities for transformation. It is about reshaping a city’s identity through the unified voice of residents. Overall, the key is to make sure that cities have their own unique appeal, ”Hwang said. .

“For example, Cheongju aims to establish itself as the comprehensive art preservation center of the country,” he added.

He cited as examples Bregenz in Austria, a city of barely 30,000 that makes huge profits by hosting an opera festival, and Bilbao in Spain, home to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which has helped transform a ancient industrial city in a unique destination for culture tourism.

The Ministry of Culture is also committed to achieving smart tourism using technology and digitization.

“Korea currently offers a travel guide that mainly focuses on content. It’s about knowing where to go and what to see. Visitors simply go to one location and return to Seoul immediately as there is no adequate accommodation nearby. They dare not dream of visiting another city because of the poor (local) transport infrastructure, ”he said.

Hwang stressed that the ministry will work closely with local governments to develop and connect the tourism sector and services, including places to explore, eat and sleep. The Ministry of Culture will also invest in immersive technologies, extended reality an umbrella term for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) – as part of the government’s initiative Digital New Deal to revitalize the economy.

“We also aim to build a digital platform to promote the selected cultural cities. I believe that this plan will help the cities to achieve balanced regional development,” he said.

Hwang shared his thoughts on renewing cultural exchanges between Korea and China on the occasion of the 2021-2022 year of cultural exchanges. Korean pop culture has been stranded in China since Korea deployed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in 2016. In December, the Korean film “Oh! My Gran” was released in mainland China, six years old. after the film. , “Assassination” was published there.

“I think China will remove its restrictions on Korean pop culture when the Beijing Winter Olympics begin. We have many events planned for next year, so I hope we can strengthen our ties and secure the peace on the Korean Peninsula, ”he said.

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