Tourism promotion has always been tricky business in Korea. In this writer’s humble opinion, one of the main stumbling blocks has been a problem of perspective, specifically, a tendency of Korean tourism promoters to consistently overrate the appeal of traditional Korean culture to international tourists.
People travel for a variety of reasons – experience, entertainment, relaxation, enrichment – but rather than consider what kinds of things tourists would like to see, do, or experience, tourism officials more often seem to promote Korea the way they would like people to experience it. As a result, their offerings and suggested itineraries often end up sounding less like an exciting holiday package and more like a high school class trip.
With the exception of Chinese and Japanese tourists ( who can pop over for weekend if they want), people from most anywhere else have to travel a long distance to get here, and the reason for doing so has to be something a bit more compelling than making kimchi, watching a mask dance, taking a pottery class, or visiting a museum dedicated to the history of the song Arirang (I’m not making that up). In short, Korea is a cool place to
visit, but you wouldn’t always know that from reading the official tourism literature.
In other news, last Sunday, the band BTS won Billboard’s Best Social Artist prize, and in doing so became the first K-Pop group to win a Billboard award. I’m not a K-Pop fan (mainly because I’m a 46-year old male), but you have to give credit where it is due: winning at an American awards ceremony despite having no songs in English and only one band member who is fluent in the language is a remarkable achievement.
Some were quick to point out that we shouldn’t read too much into it however, because it was a fan-voted prize. Anyone who recalls 2011, when the K-pop singer Rain won Time Magazine‘s poll for “The World’s Most Influential Person” (beating out Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and a comically incredulous Stephen Colbert), knows very well that you never – ever – challenge a Korean entertainer to an online poll. You will lose. Badly.
BTS also sold out a 5-show arena tour in the US earlier this year, which has fired dreams of bigger success in the North American music market, something that has so far eluded Hallyu stars (who, to be fair, have mainly focused their energies elsewhere). If the current South Korean / Chinese spat over the THAAD missile system deployment drags on, cracking into the US and other markets could become a bigger priority for K-Pop acts. Stay tuned…