Following are excerpts from an interview with Mayor Lee Byung-sun of Sokcho City recently conducted by The Korea Post media, publisher of 3 English, 2 Korean news media.—Ed.
Question: What are Sokcho City’s unique urban environment and competitive edge that help the City grow into a typical tourist destination in Korea?
Answer: Sokcho City is the top tourist destination in Korea in its real sense that is visited by over 14 million domestic and foreign tourists a year. Based on gifted tourism resources, including beautiful mountains, sea, lakes and hot springs, the City provides the largest scale of accommodations where tourists can stay in comfort, a variety of healthy foods, convenience facilities, amusing theme parks and leisure-sports facilities as well as warm hospitality of citizens.
Since more than 70% of citizens are engaged in tourism and tourism-related business, citizens and merchants are ready to welcome tourists any time, while conducting campaigns to promote mentality of service, and steadily providing lecture programs on tourism for citizens. Furthermore, the City is transforming into a ‘young and emotional city’ as it is included in the 1-day life zone with the Seoul metropolitan region thanks to drastic improvement of transportation networks with opening of the east-west express way in June this year.
And quality accommodations including large hotels and diverse types of complex buildings are under construction to meet increasing demand from tourists. Moreover, Sokcho Port established foundation as a hub of cruise tour by constructing a wharf for anchoring by 100,000-ton cruise ship and the Sokcho International Cruise Terminal. And large cruise ships already completed 12 operations between Korea and Russia. In October this year, the City hosted the Pan Asia HASH 2017 event, attracting more than 5,000 tourists from many countries. It is also supporting the 2018 Winter Olympic Games Pyeongchang set to be held in February as the nearest port from the Olympic venue.
Q: What is your plan for cruise tour industry as one of major industries in regional economy?
A: To meet increasing demand for cruise tour, the City constructed the Sokcho International Cruise Terminal in September this year that can be anchored by cruise ships larger than 100,000 tons. We will build Sokcho Port as the hub of marine and cruise tourism in the East Sea rim, and a bridgehead of marine Silk Road that connects between Northeast Passage and Northwest Passage. Above all, we will attract floating hotels to Sokcho Port to ease shortage of accommodation facilities during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games Pyeongchang.
The City will expand capabilities of the Port to be approached by 160,000-ton cruise ships by next year, and to be entered by 220,000-ton cruise ships after 2020. Along with this, it will develop cruise tour products in connection with land sightseeing tour, tour routes, foods and souvenirs.
Q: Do you see any economic effects of the new East-West Express Way between Seoul and Yangyang opened in June 2017?
A: In tourism industry, over 2.53 million tourists visited Sokcho during the summer vacation period of July after opening the East-West Express Way, an increase of 6.5% over the same period of last year. As of the end of October, around 1.64 million tourists visited Daepo Port, the most popular attraction in the City, since the launch of the new express way.
And, manufacturing facilities and business firms increased by more than 300 during this year, encouraged by easier and faster access to Seoul and metropolitan area. With anticipated increase of tourists, 8 large scale accommodation facilities are currently under construction and 8 additional facilities are in regulatory process. In connection with Yangyang International Airport, Sokcho is expected to grow to a new international foothold of tourism and logistics.
Q: Please explain tourism policy and projected major programs of the City.
A: To cope with domestic and global tourism trends and sharpen competitive edge, the municipal government is working on strategies and developing a tourism brand that can epitomize the City for 10 years to come. Leveraging tourism infrastructure, including premium large hotels and resorts, expanded wharf for 100,000-ton passenger and cruise ships and nearby Yangyang International Airport, the City will concentrate efforts on promoting meeting, incentives, convention, events and exhibition (MICE) industry, cruise tourism and integrated industry of accommodation, food and shopping.
In addition, it will transform its beach into a premium tourist attraction by changing it to a ‘beach dedicated to healing health’ and develop a ‘weekend nigh market’ to provide things to see, buy, enjoy, eat and experience. It will also develop an evening festival such as the craft beer festival and eventually build a ‘craft beer town’ by combining with the traditional red king crab festival. In an effort to satisfy diverse demands from audiences of the Winter Olympic Games Pyeongchang and passengers of cruise ships, the City is seeking to build a new duty-free shopping arcade
Q: Do you have any urban development plans to jump up to an advanced city?
A: Visited by over 14 million tourists a year, its major tour destinations topped in popularity ranking among tourists in surveys conducted by leading media. With increased transportation networks and infrastructure, its urban environment is rapidly changing to a city of 300,000 population with unlimited potential. Based on comprehensive survey on current and future demands with the ‘Sokcho Vision 2035’, the City government is designing future-oriented blue print and roadmap for mid- and long-term regional development to reorganize the urban spatial structure.