With almost three quarters of the country covered by mountains, Korea’s topography makes it an amazing destination for Sport Tourism.
Add to this a peninsula coastline that boasts many islands and islets, the biggest of which is ‘Jeju’, a semi-tropical island off the south coast, formed by the ancient exploits of an underwater volcano.
Furthermore Korea is the 15th biggest economy in the world and already an “old head on young shoulders” when it comes to hosting the world’s biggest sporting events. All these ingredients have interwoven to form an Asian hub for sport tourism.
Within the psyche and fabric of Korean society is well-being of mind and body, and Koreans take advantage of the 20 national parks dotted across the country to hike, climb, ski and white water raft making it easier than ever for the international tourist to do the same. The watch word for Korea is ‘diversity’ exemplified by 15 ski-resorts mainly in the north-eastern part of the country, with world-class facilities serving a thriving ski industry.
2011 will be another hugely important year for Korea’s sport tourism portfolio. The World Taekwondo Championships will be held in May, the IAAF World Athletics Championships in August and another F1 race will return to the new track at Yeongam in October.
Added to this, Pyeongchang, will find out if it will host the 2018 Winter Olympics, when the decision is made in July. Having narrowly missed out on the 2010 and 2014 Games, Korea has high hopes for securing 2018; three consecutive bids shows the professionalism, tenacity and belief in what Korea can offer in this field.
Investment in winter sports is evident with the opening of the Alpensia Resort, Gangwondo, costing more than $1.8 billion and includes Olympic-standard ski facilities, a five-star hotel and two golf courses.
Such a busy sporting calendar is thanks to the legacy and positive reverberations continuing to be felt and reflected in all sectors of Korea’s tourism industry, since hosting the 1988 Summer Olympics and 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Korea already boasts an impressive sport tourism portfolio
If successful, the winter Olympics will bring global attention to the Korean peninsula once again and with that comes lucrative tangible and intangible benefits for the host nation. Winning the right to host a global sporting festival provides a unique platform from which to raise awareness of the destination, whilst cutting through cultural stereo-typing and showcasing the country’s diversity in areas such as arts, culture, heritage, music and dance.
It will also act as a catalyst for change with job creation and development of skills through volunteerism, also new or upgraded infrastructure such as Korea’s Incheon International Airport which opened in 2001 just before the 2002 FIFA World Cup and huge investment in spacious exhibition and conference venues equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
Korea is divided into nine provinces and central government have been astute in spreading major events to all corners of the country widening economic development and raising awareness of areas beyond the capital ‘Seoul’, thus ensuring that the media have a consistent and balanced tourism narrative about the country to export internationally.
Closest to Seoul is the international gateway city of Incheon, dubbed the ‘new Dubai’, which has seen huge expansion and aims to become one of the four top distribution hubs in the world having been designated as a ‘free-economic zone’. Investment and development has helped it win the right to organise the 2014 Asian Games.
In August 2011, the world’s top athletes and media will descend on Daegu, for the IAAF World Athletics Championships. Daegu is located just under two hours from Seoul by rail and is benefiting from the upgraded line carrying the high-speed KTX train between Seoul and Busan, now possible in 2 hours 10 minutes. Having already hosted the ‘2003 Summer Universidad’ Daegu is more than prepared for Augusts major event.
Further down the western coastline, a second F1 race will take place in autumn; a vehicle to regenerate the south west region. In addition to the circuit, the leisure complex will include hotels, a water park, marina, casino, golf course, theme park, shopping malls, water sports, restaurants and bars once all construction phases are complete. Yeongam will compliment ‘Yeosu 2012’ which is a world expo themed around ‘water and sustainability’.
Jeju Island has placed sports tourism at the heart of its offering
Since 1996 Jeju Island has been a self-governing province, with tourism a key industry for the Island. Also, home to PGA standard golf courses and a world class football stadium, yet nature remains the major draw to adventure and health tourists, lured by the Island’s volcanic legacies which became Korea’s first natural site to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage listing back in June 2007, in recognition of their uniqueness.
One of the features of Jeju is the “Jeju Olle Trail” – 200km of paths which criss-cross the island leading to forests, mountains and beaches. For adrenalin junkies the island is a natural play ground to mountain bike, scuba dive, paraglide or backpack to the craters and lava streams. The island has previously hosted “The Jeju International Ironman Korea” authorized by the World Triathlon Council.
In 2013 a ‘Taekwondo Park’ is set to open in Muju and is anticipated to be a modern “world cultural heritage” for Koreans and sport enthusiasts. The Korea Tourism Org in London is using this mile stone and the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics to work in partnership with Sport Taekwondo (UK), which is the performance arm of the British Taekwondo Control Board, to raise awareness of Korea as the ‘Home of Taekwondo’.
This is providing an exceptional platform to promote the destination through the national sport using dedicated online brochures, social media tools and presence at key events.
Taekwondo is a hugely popular global sport with around 60 million practitioners in 184 countries and is a ‘must-do’ activity for tourists to experience whilst travelling in Korea. The Taekwondo Park is a huge complex spreading across 2,314,000 m sq and divided into three theme zones: “Body”, referred to as a ‘space for experience’ will encompass, for example, a Taekwondo Exhibition Hall and a ‘World Taekwondo Village’; “Mind” will be dedicated to training with a multi-purpose stadium (5,000 seat) and World Taekwondo Academy; “Spirit” will symbolize what the sport means to the home nation but also to sports people around the globe and will contain a “Hall of Honour”, “Water Terrace” and “Observatory”. The park is nestled under Mount Baekunsan in Muju, which boasts beautiful scenery of nine valleys. By 2016 forecasters predict annual visitors to reach 1.94 million.
Korea will become only the seventh country in the world to have organized the “Triple Crown” once the IAAF World Athletics Championships Daegu are completed this year, following the successes of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Thus, Sport Tourism Expo on the Korean peninsula is developing at a speed that Usain Bolt would struggle to keep up with. Not only will federations entrust the country with future sporting events but as importantly global tourists, corporate meeting planners and conference organisers are confident to explore the scenic beauty and world-class cultural assets. Korea will continue to prosper as a hub for sport tourism and this sector will enhance the destination as a diverse, attractive and memorable country for visitors from all walks of life.