Making South Korea the Next Holiday Hotspot

Making South Korea the Next Holiday Hotspot

Posted on November 2 by Mark Dake in Non-fiction
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Travelling through South Korea, it never fails to surprise me that its tourism sector shows almost no inclination to create accommodation, facilities and amenities that appeal to North American and European vacation tastes. Not that South Korea necessarily needs to cater to the West’s vacation value system. The Asian nation receives about 12 million tourists annually, the vast bulk from China and Japan, and only a pittance from Europe and North America. If South Korea could tap into this market, its tourism numbers could escalate. I see little hope of this happening, though, anytime soon.

"...what Westerners desire on holiday can be diametrically opposite to what Koreans seek."

 

I moved from Toronto to Seoul to begin teaching English as a second language in 1995. Except for a three-year hiatus from 2012 to 2015, when I was back in Canada, Korea has been my second home for the better part of the last two decades. In that time, I have explored a great deal of the peninsula: its interior and east coast granite mountain ranges; its western coastal plains and some of the thousands of small islands dotting the southwest and southern shorelines, and the lonely, secluded overgrown bush comprising the border area that separates South and North Korea. If someone was to ask me to recommend a vacation spot amenable to Western tastes, I would honestly be hard-pressed to provide a positive answer, because what Westerners desire on holiday can be diametrically opposite to what Koreans seek.

Say you covet a seaside beach vacation.

There are plenty of sandy beaches in Korea, including along the rather remote east coast’s deep, blue-hued Sea of Japan (East Sea), and sandy-mud beaches along the west shore, and ones dotting the highly indented south coast. You’d likely expect your holiday site to be aesthetically pleasing and quiet, and peaceful and somewhat private, preferably offering a view of the sea through large front windows. Maybe a covered porch and comfortable padded deck chairs to relax on to read that best-seller you haven’t had time to check out back home — while sipping a tall, cold glass of ice tea. For activities, maybe a beach-front windsurfing board, small sail or rowboat, and a mountain bike to tootle around the immediate area.

"Koreans are group-orientated people — their holidays tend to focus on congregating and long meals, drinking, conversation, mingling and partying."

 

Yet, I have yet to find such a place and such amenities, despite have traversed thousands of kilometres of Korea’s coastline. Such sites exist in Asia. I have been privy to them in The Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia. I desire only a little wood cottage a comfortable distance from my neighbour, and a kayak or canoe. But if such an establishment exists in South Korea, I have yet to find it.

Instead, what you often get is a handful of two- or three-storey unappealing concrete motels, hotels or mimbak (family homes with rooms for rent), which likely won’t have a large window providing a sea view. Often, in close proximity will be an utilitarian concrete restaurant and maybe a noribang (karaoke room), with strains of off-key singing and K-Pop music audible in the night hours. If the beach area is popular with the young crowd, it could be noisy, with partygoers singing and lighting up fireworks in the dark. Koreans are group-orientated people — their holidays tend to focus on congregating and long meals, drinking, conversation, mingling and partying.

"When a particular site is developed for tourism, it’s for Korean tastes, and probably an eyesore: a steel and concrete condominium or hotel." 

 

As for water craft -- they really aren’t part of the equation (unless one counts the occasional noisy jet ski). Koreans tend to be collectively and unrealistically fearful of deeper water. Sailing, kayaking, rowing and swimming, require, of course, being in water deeper than the height of one’s body, and braving such rather underwhelming depths can be anathema to Koreans.

When a particular site is developed for tourism, it’s for Korean tastes, and probably an eyesore: a steel and concrete condominium or hotel. The concept of getting away alone to individual holistic cottages or cabins that compliment nature seems to be just that—a concept. I understand erecting a six-floor structure makes financial sense. Land is expensive in Korea. Aesthetically though, such designs clash with the natural environment.

On occasion, I have floated the idea to local Korean government and tourism officials that to entice Westerners to vacation in the country, they would need to provide the type of accommodation and amenities we seek. What I receive are polite nods or blanks stares.

It’s too bad. Korea has a lot to offer. There are many beautiful areas.

It seems to be a Catch-22 situation; Koreans aren’t going to invest in infrastructure agreeable to Westerners unless they know a profit will be forthcoming, while Westerners aren’t about to reserve expensive flights for week-long family holidays unless they’re sure the environment, accommodation and facilities meet expectations.

If I knew of such a place in Korea, I’d be there now! 

Mark Dake

Posted by Kendra on December 1, 2015
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Mark Dake

Mark Anton Dake has worked as a sports reporter, a tennis coach, and a copyeditor. From 1995 to 2012, he worked as an ESL teacher in Seoul, Korea, and has travelled through thirty-five countries in North and South America, East Asia, and Europe. Mark lives and works in Seoul, South Korea.