By Jeongnam Kim
(Former Senior Presidential Secretary for Education·Culture·Society, World Korean News advisor)
It was known that as of November 21, 2012, the number of foreign tourists who have visited Korea surpassed the 10 million mark. This is the 7th of all Asian countries. This landmark is 1.5 million than that of Europe's Switzerland, and 4 million more than that of Japan.
This historic mark of 10 million tourists was followed by 10,000 in 1961, one million in 1978, and 5 million in 2000. This statistics is almost same as the total number of tourists who visited the Oceania, including Australia and New Zealand. This ranked Korea in 2012 as the 24th in the world for the scale of foreign tourists.
Korea, in view of its present geopolitical feature. is no other than an island country. Our country is surrounded by water on three sides, and our peninsula is divided across by a military demarcation line, which makes it impossible for us to travel abroad by land. Considering the fact that we do not have the so-called borderline tourism as seen in the U.S. and Canada, or in the European Union, the age of 10 million foreign tourists is apparently a surprising achievement.
The only island country within the 10th most visited countries in the world is the Great Britain, which came in the 7th, with a total of foreign tourists of 28.1 million in 2011. The government authorities concerned have set the target of 20 million foreign tourists in 2020.
But the reality of our tourist industry is neither that healthy nor has a good prospect. The ratio of Korean tourist industry, including the indirect fields, is 5.2 percent, a whopping low level compared to the world's average of 9.1 percent. The worldwide number of people engaged in the field of the tourism industry are 255 million, including the indirect employees, or 1 per 12 workers.
Compared to this, we have 514,000 workers in this field, only 2 percent of the total population.
And the satisfaction level of the foreign tourists visiting Korea is not comparative to the increasing level of their visits. According to the situation report on the foreign tourists in 2011, the satisfaction rate of foreign tourists visiting Korea for the last 5 years from 2007 to 2011 was 4.07/5, 4.09/5, 4.12/5, 3.14, and 4.02, which shows almost standing still.
What worries me is the low satisfaction level leads to the results of no repeat visits. As of 2011, the ratio of repeat visits for the last 3 years was 39.1 percent, falling behind the 40 percent mark for the first time since 2006. The inconvenience the foreign tourists feel during their stay in Korea was language barriers (52.3 percent), shortage of guide posts (21.5 percent), Traffic jam (17.6 percent), high prices (14.7 percent), and the food (11.7 percent). Other tasks that needs to be solved as soon as possible is the expansion of the tourism industry infrastructure, including accommodation facilities.
Viewed from the hopeful standpoint, there is still quite a room for the Korean tourism to grow, but there are also quite a number of problems to should be improved and explored as well. For example, the culture of tourism needs to be expanded and developed from the core of the visual interest to the experience of culture and exchange, from the core of sightseeing to the tourism lured with the opportunity of advanced medical treatment and MICE (International Conference, Intensive Tourism, and Exhibitions), from the Seoul-centered tourism to the contents of regional tourism, from the core of the well-known places to the living tourism showing the cultures of alleys and old traditional markets, and so forth. Namely, each of the scenes of our own living and the every individual of our people should be made a healthy tourism resource per se.