A total of 63 ambassadors, senior diplomats and spouses visited Cheongsong County in Gyeongsangbukdo on May 1, 2010 to attend the 25th Sudallae Azalea Festival in front of the picturesque Juwangsan Mountain, and tour historical and cultural sites.
Why repeat the story and pictures published by The Korea Post media over seven years ago?
It is because Mayor Governor Han Dong-Soo invited and warmly accommodated a total of 63 ambassadors and other diplomats attending the famous Apple Festival in his city in that year. The tour was organized by The Korea Post media.
This year again, specifically on Nov. 3 this year, Mayor Han is again inviting the ambassadors and other senior members of the Seoul Diplomatic Corps with their spouses to attend the ever-growing Apple Festival this year.
As its name represents, Cheongsong County is a land of green forest and clean water. Surrounded by high mountain ranges including Mt. Taebaek-san and Mt. Juwang-san, forest occupies 82% of its total area and the forest is mainly formed by pine trees. Literally, ‘cheong’ means blue or green. It also represents spring, youthfulness, east and nobleness. And ‘song’ means pine tree. The pine tree represents integrity, longevity and flourishing. Thus, ‘cheongsong’ means the most ideal region to live in with dignity. With this secluded natural environment, the County has been known even as a utopia. Now the County is striving to achieve sustainable growth in a unique way. The Korea Post recently interviewed its Mayor Han Dong-su. Excerpts from the interview follow.--Ed.
Question: With a total population of 26,000 and 32% of elderly population, what is your strategy for sustainable growth?
Answer: The most important factor for sustainable growth is enhancement of a brand. We produce best quality apples and they represent the County, but the apple still has weak product brand. Clean air and water with annual average diurnal range as wide as 13.4℃, relatively less annual amount of precipitation of around 1,000mm and large amount of sunshine provide an ideal environment for producing excellent quality apples featuring sweet taste, sour taste and pleasant texture.
Since registering apples for the geographical indication system in 2007, the County government has been actively publicizing Cheongsong apples with the brand name of ‘premium products produced by the nature’ while conducting various promotional activities such as offering chances of visiting and tasting apples to members of sisterhood communities to expand consumption networks in large cities.It also modernized distribution facilities and increased export.
At the Korea Agricultural Products Power Brand Exhibition, Cheongsong apples received the grand prize in apple segment for third consecutive year since 2008, and they were honored with the grand prize in apple segment of the Korean Representative Brand Contest for fifth consecutive year since 2013. In addition, the municipal government installed more than 50 ‘Cheongsong apple automatic vending machines, the first fresh fruit vending machines, at public places such as service areas on express ways and public office buildings. In preparation for climate change, we are continuously developing new agricultural products and providing education on organic farming by operating a future agriculture college and a forest product cultivation college.
While it is surrounded by many rugged mountains, the County preserves a number of primitive and mysterious landscapes, such as a beautiful lake, valleys and icy stream that attract tourists. It also has a number of cultural facilities, including a literature museum, art museum, exhibition halls, and a viewing stone museum.And yet, its transportation, lodging and convenience facilities are not sufficient. Despite such inconveniences, more than 2 million tourists visit this region annually, but most of them make sightseeing travel for one day without staying overnight due to lack of lodging facilities. However, tourists are expected to significantly increase as an express way connecting the County with Sangju and Yeongdeok was constructed late last year, and a large scale condominium with 314 rooms will launch operation next month.
While expanding lodging facilities for stay overnights by tourists, the County government is concentrating efforts on promoting the meeting, incentives, convention, events and exhibition (MICE) industry. It is actively attracting and marketing business meetings and incentive tours by developing MICE products and improving services, capitalizing on its unique history, culture and beautiful landscape. It is also offering familiarization tours as part of programs for promoting MICE industry. It will expand MICE promotional activities to overseas markets, including China and Japan. To develop a global forum like Davos Forum, it is regularly holding town meetings with experts.
Q: What is your other strategy for sustainable growth?
A: In addition to these strategies, we are conducting sports and socio-economic activities. Since 2011, it had hosted the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup for 5 years, and was successfully chosen as the venue for UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup for another 5 years from 2016 to 2020. Having attracted world’s attention, the Ice Climbing World Cup was selected as a demonstration sport in the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Game. Further, in June 2011, the County was designated as a cittaslow for the first time in Korea, and then the entire County was designated again as the cittaslow in March this year by the International Cittaslows in recognition of its various efforts to protect and nurture traditional culture and natural resources.
Being a cittaslow, it opened socio-economic academy to build sustainable socio-economic ecosystem, while restoring unique regional culture and economic communities. It will improve slow life of citizens while preserving regional tradition and culture by invigorating cittaslow foods, farmhouse life experience, ecological experience and homestay at farmhouses.
Q: What is the significance of being registered as a UNESCO Global Geopark and what are tasks for preserving its value?
A: After it was designated as a national geopark in 2014, the County was named as a UNESCO global geopark, the second one in Korea next to Jeju-do Province. As the global geopark aims at vitalizing educational tourism by making use of geological heritages and all resources, it is intended to pursue sustainable development by harmonizing preservation and utilization of these resources. It is a resident-friendly program that keeps balance between preservation and utilization of resources.The certification of global geopark is effective for 4 years, and its certification is required to be renewed in every 4 years. Having concluded an MOU with Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources (KIGAM), it has made significant contribution to development of the Global Geoparks Network by promoting geoparks in international community through education programs and symposiums.
Currently, the County government is seeking to establish a UNESCO global geopark center, which will implement a variety of activities, such as publicity, international cooperation, training of geopark guides, education of residents and operation of a geopark museum. Promotion of geotourism is one of important tasks, and this requires active participation by residents. But, active engagement by residents should be preceded by helping them experience economic effect of geopark. For this, we are developing contents of geopark, such as education-oriented experiencing activities by combining unique geological feature, environment and history. Our ultimate goal is to invigorate premium tourism industry by taking advantage of resources of geopark.
Q: Do you have any plan for generating new jobs?
A: With the goal of ‘pushing forward resident-oriented creative administration and happy County’, the municipal government is striving to generate new jobs tailored for regional situation. In the public sector, we are creating new jobs at public organizations, providing vocational training programs and support for venture firms, and expanding infrastructure for new jobs. Currently, public organizations already employed or plan to employ approximately 2,000 individuals.
We are encouraging private companies to increase new jobs. To develop vocational capabilities of farmers, we are supporting farmers’ college. We also exert efforts to improve employment situation by enhancing quality and added value of employment through establishment of socio-economic ecosystem. Specifically, the County authority will select 10 outstanding product brands and companies in this year and nurture them as representative socio-economic brands so that they will create more new jobs. In the private sector, a large scale resort complex of Daemyung Condo is scheduled to start operation next month when it is expected to employ more than 100 persons. And other companies are also expected to generate substantial number of jobs.
Q: Please introduce your major strategies for this year.
A: Deciding the direction of implementing the County government’s administration for this year as ‘Happiness for all and beautiful accompaniment’, we are pushing forward 6 strategies, including stabilization of agricultural income; realization of hopeful welfare; establishment of sophisticated cultural, touristic and recreational town; creation of pleasant life environment; region of shaping the future; and residents-oriented transparent administration. In order to stabilize income of farmers, the County government is committed to retaining the power brand of apple that won the national grand prize for the fifth consecutive year.
It will also provide indirect support for reducing production costs of excellent agricultural products while expanding lotus growing fields around tourist attractions. To realize healthy and lively welfare, it will improve and expand welfare programs for senior residents, disabled people and multi-cultural families. In addition, it will develop tourism programs that are combined with education, stay, health and entertainment in connection with differentiated contents and events, such as cittaslow, UNESCO global geopark, health tourism, festivals and sports games, including Cheongsong Apple Festival, Juwangsan Sudalrae Flower Festival, UIAA Ice-Climbing World Cup and Cheongsong International Motorcycle Championship.
Q: What are ways of invigorating regional economy?
A: As I explained earlier, we have competitive tourism resources, such as Mt. Juwang-san National Park, cittislow and UNESCO global geopark as well as a number of culture and tourism experience facilities, including Gaekju Literature Museum and Yasong Art Gallery. Combined with a variety of contents, these resources will significantly contribute to boosting regional economy. Having gained high reputation of apples by winning power brand awards for fifth consecutive year and more, we will enhance added value of agricultural products by providing support for production of such products, distribution facilities and eco-friendly farming materials while developing 6th industry such as homestay at farm houses and experience of rural life. Also, we will actively invigorate MICE industry, improve quality of regional products, implement the system of quality certification, develop brands and characters of local products, expand sales facilities and diversify sales channels.