SOUTH KOREA: With more than half the tickets for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games already snapped up, South Korean organisers are inching closer towards reaching their goal of having good crowds at the event.
Before the start of the Olympic torch relay in early November, only about 31 per cent of the tickets were sold.
However, around 550,000 tickets have been sold as of late last month (Nov 24), according to the country’s Yonhap News agency. The PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Games (POCOG) said that the sales “account for 52 per cent of the committee’s sales target of 1.07 million.”
Having invested heavily in winter sports infrastructure, all of this represents positive news, especially for the country’s big-picture goal of attracting more international visitors to the country.
In an email reply to Channel NewsAsia, organisers POCOG said: “From 2012 to 2016, the Korean government has invested close to US$60 million in building winter sports infrastructure and nurturing athletes, and the effort will continue until 2018 and beyond.”
“We hope that our country’s investment into growing winter sports will help attract locals and international visitors to South Korea.”
GEARING UP FOR MORE VISITORS
As the venue for ski jumping in the Winter Olympics, the Alpensia ski resort is one beneficiary of the infrastructure upgrades.
One main addition to the venue – which has benefitted ski tourists and athletes alike – is the wind blocks installed adjacent to its hulking ski slopes.
Kim Heung-soo, the venue’s ski jumping sports manager said: “We’ve installed wind blocks because wind is a factor that… can endanger skiers. We have studied where the wind blows and installed them after very long research.”
Mr Kim hopes that the resort’s safe and state-of-the-art facilities will attract more visitors to Alpensia, as its ski jumping slope is “magnificent” and that it will be “the most eye-catching venue out of all the venues.”
Another ski resort involved in February’s Winter Olympics is the YongPyong ski resort, which has also built new facilities to support the event.
In addition to having conducted maintenance in all of its facilities, the resort has invested in new accommodation, as well as a new swimming pool and fitness centre.
It takes pride in its rich history. “Established in 1975 as the Korea’s first ski resort, the history of YongPyong is in fact the very history of the Korean Winter Sports,” said YongPyong resort’s representative Ms Park Yoon-hee.
“The Rainbow course … hosted the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup four times since 1998, and is recognised as the world class expert slope both at home and abroad.”
“We do open our ski slopes during the Olympic period, so it is still possible to enjoy a one-day ski tour,” said Ms Park.
“However, usage of the ski gondola, the Rainbow course … and the Silver Slope will be limited due to the Olympics.”
SOUTH KOREA AS A WINTER DESTINATION
In the previous winter season, 519,468 tourists came to South Korea for snow sports, figures obtained from the Ski Resort Business Association of Korea, showed.
According to them, Singaporeans were ranked fourth in terms of snow sports tourism arrivals, while China and Thailand accounted for the most number of tourists arriving in South Korea for snow activities.
In YongPyong resort alone, an average of 2,600 people visited during non-event weekdays in April, according to figures given by the resort. During the Chinese New Year holiday in January 2017, there were more than 56,000 visitors.
It also made about US$4.6 million last year from international tourists, with about 37,300 tourists coming from Asia, while European tourists accounted for only 1,525.
For the PyeongChang Games next February, the Korean Tourism Organisation (KTO) is expecting close to 800,000 tourists.
“We foresee South Korea to become one of the most popular tourist destination in North East Asia,” said the KTO, in an email response to Channel NewsAsia. “The Winter Olympics is expected to play a huge role in attracting tourists from countries in Europe and America that are good in winter sports.”
“The Gangwon province – which hosts the PyeongChang Olympics – is also expected to become the heart of South Korean Tourism destinations,” it added. “Through the hosting of 2018 Winter Olympics, the KTO plans to bring the spotlight onto Gangwon’s unique sights, and making the province a four-season tourist destination.”
WILL IT ATTRACT THE WESTERN MARKET?
Hospitality business director Don Roelofs – who is based in Gangwon province – is unsure if tourism numbers from Europe and America will change much after the Winter Olympics. He cited alternative ski destinations from those continents, as a main sticking point in raising tourism numbers.
“In terms of increasing visitors in Asia, the Winter Games is going to be great for that,” he said. “For Europe, there is too much competition…you’ve got Switzerland, France, Italy and Austria which are all great ski destinations and it’s the same with America.”
“They will never travel all the way in Asia just to do winter sports.”
Said Roelofs, whose business is located in Gangneung district. “Personally, from a business point of view, we’d like (Europeans and Americans) to come but I cannot say at the moment if tourism numbers from them will increase.”
“If you look at the 2002 World Cup, tourism didn’t really grow from European and American tourists even though the Football World Cup is a global event.”
The increased coverage of North Korean tensions in Western media might also deter tourists from Europe, according to Roelofs. “The rest of Asia is close by, and that’s why Asians understand the situation better.”
“In Europe and in North America, they’re pretty much afraid to come to South Korea due to the tension in the North. We get a lot of phone calls from clients in those places trying to confirm the situation.”
He added: “The Winter Games, I believe, would not alleviate this fear, as Olympics is simply symbolic in nature. The real deals are the ones the politicians will have to make, and the Games won’t change the situation much.”
However, he is optimistic that Asian tourist arrivals will rise even further post-Winter Games. “For the Asian market, it’s going to be really interesting. South Korea has snow, mountains and winter…and it’s something that countries like Singapore doesn’t have,” said Roelofs, who is a managing director at KR Hospitality & Events.
South Korean authorities meanwhile, are hopeful that the Winter Olympics will be a peaceful and successful one. Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, South Korea’s Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Do Jong-hwan said: “The success of the games will definitely make people around the world remember Pyeongchang.”
“(The district’s) name itself brings great meaning. “Pyong” means peace and “Chang” means prosperity. In all, I believe that the Olympics will be one of peace and prosperity,” he added.