Korea Travel Expo 2009

The historically weak Korean won and global economic crisis has many Koreans looking at domestic travel destinations instead of holidays in Southeast Asia or the U.S.

Yellow, blue and red background with white text 'Korean Festivals' in the center of the frame.

To meet their needs, this past weekend the Korea Travel Expo 2009 hosted its sixth annual event at the Atlantic Hall of the COEX center in southern Seoul.

Nearly 500 booths representing 280 different regional governments, transportation companies and local festivals took part in the nation’s largest expo promoting domestic tourism. This being Korea, several booths offered free samples of indigenous liquor.

A large billboard sign for the Korean Travel Expo in 2009. Text in various colors on a light blue background. A glass roof can be seen in the background.

Supposedly, the four-day Expo’s overall theme was “Green Tourism,” but I didn’t know it. Despite an exhibit promoting bicycle travel, and, of course the environmental benefits of avoiding jet travel for local destinations, the theme seemed mostly in name only.

Among the diverse array of high quality exhibits was one promoting overnight stays at Buddhist temples. Others profiled South Chungcheong Province‘s Taean County area, which was ravaged by a huge oil spill in 2007.

Three children making pottery with clay. There are two pottery wheels and a plastic blue bucket with fresh clay. The background is of a pottery shop.

In one of several hands-on exhibits, a booth celebrating Korea’s proud tradition of producing world-famous celadon pottery offered kids a chance to try their hands at a potter’s wheel.

I was happy to see a number of new materials that better communicate Korea’s travel potential. One booth offered six beautiful little booklets, each highlighting one of Seoul’s five major palaces, and another for the Jongmyo Royal Shrine (종묘). The booklets’ sophisticated design featured nice photos, brilliant bird’s eye renderings of the palace grounds and excellent historical information.

Two people wearing costumes featuring stars as heads, one is blue one is red. In the background is a man standing in front of a big glass sign, with plants and a bench underneath it.

I was also intrigued by another exhibit hosted by the folks at V@NK, the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea. Started in 1999, the controversial NGO aims to inform people about “inaccurate” descriptions of Korean history, culture or geography.

As such, the V@NK booth offered stickers where people could “correct” textbooks that call the East Sea the “Sea of Japan”, or call Dokdo either “Takeshima” or the “Liancourt Rocks.”

Close up of a map of Korea with a book in the foreground.

In a less guerilla fashion, the booth also presented very attractive notecard-sized descriptions of famous Korean historical figures or contributions to the world, such as King Sejong the Great, moveable type (a precursor to the printing press), and bibimbap.

A man walks past an exhibit at the Korea Travel Expo, with bright pictures of landscapes on the walls, fake grass on the ground and a low fence.

The Expo’s intended audience was definitely Korean speakers, as there was virtually no English (or other language) signage, and the bag loads of free brochures, maps and other take-aways were exclusively in Korean.

While the event met a need by targeting a domestic, Korean audience, I think the Expo could also be a great way for foreigners living in Korea to identify other parts of the country where they would like to visit.

About Matt Kelley

Matt Kelly is native of the US Pacific Northwest and is half-Korean by ethnicity. He lived in Korea for five years and has written hundreds of travel guides for Wallpaper, TimeOut, the Boston Globe and Seoul Magazine and was a host for several different variety shows on Korean radio and television.

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