Thursday, August 03, 2006

Korea - the boring Mercantile Fortress?

Much hay has been made a couple days ago when the Dong-Ah wrote a story about how Korea is boring. Not much was said though about the under current about the article. Part of the article was not worry about Korea being boring, but rather Korea was loosing in the tourism trade.

To this end the author got the obligatory quote on the matter, this time from the bank of Korea:

Recently, the Bank of Korea stated the main reason for the last half year’s (January – June) balance of current accounts going into the red for the first time in nine years is the tourism balance, which has been in the red for 60 months running.

That’s right, the reason Korea is running a trade deficit according to the bank of Korea so far this year is the balance of the tourist trade, not oil prices, or the decline in export growth, or the general manufacturing decline. Excuse me as I scoff at the Bank of Korea brain trust.

This hand wringing is no surprise to some of us here in Korea. The newspaper is always pointing out the growth of Koreans leaving for vacation:

Service deficit rises as more go abroad – Joongang March 15, 2006

Overseas spending rises to record high – Joongang March 24, 2005

Koreans' card use up overseas – Joongang June 24, 2004

Tourism Balance of Payments in Deficit This Year, Lavish spending on overseas trips is chipping away at the nation's hard-saved dollars, a central bank official said. – Joongang, September 18, 2000

You get the idea. If you go and research some of the links here, and other stories you get the distinct idea that newsmen consider any overseas spending as “lavish”, if not wasteful. This seems to have reduced some, likely because as the phenomenon grows they can put two and two together and stumble on the fact that overseas travel is not just for the rich anymore.

For more perspective consider the following Joongang Ilbo editorial from 2005 I dug up:

The same goes for overseas tourism. In the case of golf, some 230,000 people spend a total of 500 billion won last year on trips to foreign golf courses and the numbers are expected to grow...A plan is needed so that our hard-earned money from exports isn't wasted abroad…People should feel free to enjoy golfing and tourism without having to go abroad.

Living here you can find more anecdotal evidence for this. One thing that strikes me about the Korea National Tourism Organization is they must spend as much money for promoting tourism IN Korea as they do outside.

My point is not only to point out Korea’s knee jerk mercantilism on the topic, but a disturbing truth. Even many Koreans think the place is boring.

Perhaps boring is too harsh, but even Koreans agree that either vacation here is too expensive or too boring versus the alternatives. Most of you in Korea can do the basic math. I ask how far US$1000 gets you in Jeju in a week versus US$1000 Phuket in a week. I also ask you, which one of those US$1000 vacations would you take, be honest. Or for that matter, all of you bloggers that played up Korea’s tourism attractions and advantages I ask you “So where did you splurge on your last big vacation?”

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