By Kim Rahn
It's a dilemma Korea has encountered many times before: plenty of tourists ― indeed, numbers are rising ― but a dearth of attractions with which to occupy them.
In the past year, visitor numbers have increased, largely on the back of a weak won.
But with exchange rates turning unfavorable to foreign visitors, the growth is beginning to slow. So authorities are faced with the same old problems: Put simply, the nation lacks things for foreign tourists to see and do.
The tourism industry has been aware of the shortcomings for some time and has made efforts to develop new attractions and programs.
Now another pair of developments are about to come to fruition. At the end of the month a premium Korean restaurant called Unamjeong, which has been revived from a famous comic, and an exhibition hall named "Star Avenue", which will help re-ignite Hallyu, or the Korean Cultural Wave.
Korean food is growing more popular among foreigners and has become an important part of tourism, especially after the hit soap opera "Jewel in the Palace", which featured royal court cuisine from the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).
In line with the trend, a Korean restaurant will open in High1 Resort in Gangwon Province on June 30 that rekindles its namesake from the best-selling comic book series "Sikgaek" ("Le Grand Chef
" - "Gourmet"
Created by one of the nation's most renowned cartoonists, Huh Young-man
, the comic features food from all parts of the country, ranging from the cheap and popular available at street eateries to the rare and luxury cuisine of restaurants.
The popularity of the cartoon resulted in a movie re-make in 2007 and a drama last year, starring Kim Rae-won
and Kwon Oh-jung
The set of Unamjeong, one of main venues in the soap opera, was built at the resort and it has been remodeled for real life operation.
"We planned to put the restaurant in operation after shooting in the first place as part of efforts to provide not only various leisure attractions, but also premium foods representing Korea and Gangwon Province", said Yoon Hyun-joo, assistant manager of the resort complex.
Some of the food featured in the cartoons and the drama will be offered at the restaurant. Twenty-two menu items are currently planned, ranging from food eaten by noble families of the Joseon era to royal court dishes. Various kinds of "namul" (seasoned wild greens), especially those from Gangwon, are also included.
Two special tonic dishes have been prepared, each made with badger and duck fed with sulfur ― the latter was featured in "Jewel in the Palace".
"The menus can be changed according to season and visitor response. After monitoring guest responses and preferences during 10 days of pilot operation, the restaurant will finalize its seasonal menus for the grand opening on July 10", Yoon said.
The resort sought advice on the food from several traditional institutes and restaurants, including the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine and the Institute of Traditional Korean Food.
A teahouse named "Daryegwan", where visitors can enjoy the popular drink and learn about the Korean tea ceremony, is another feature.
Prices at the restaurant range from 35,000 to 150,000 won.
"Unamjeong will not only offer foods but also publicize Korea's food culture. We use the best-quality ingredients, ceramic tableware made by artists and waiters and waitresses wear `hanbok', or traditional costume", Yoon said.
Some say Hallyu is over. Others, though, say the phenomenon is far from dead. They believe that new, improved Hallyu-related attractions are required ― not just the exportation of Korean dramas and movies.
Their calls may be answered if the latest at Lotte World in Jamsil, southeastern Seoul, is any kind of pointer. An entertainment venue named "Star Avenue" will open on June 30 and will offer various exhibitions and information on nine Hallyu stars and groups.
"With entertainment content about Korea's representative stars, Star Avenue will give foreign visitors a chance to enjoy the Korean Wave in a fresh way", said Kim Nam-sik, director of the Star Avenue PR agency.
The nine are models for the Lotte duty free shop: music stars TVXQ, Rain
and Big Bang; actors Park Yong-ha
, Song Seung-heon
, Choi Ji-woo
, Ji Sung
and Kang Ji-hwan
; and Japanese transgender makeup artist Ikko.
The 1,100-square-meter hall is comprised of five sections ― Star Showcase, Star Center, Music Star, Drama Star and With Star.
Star Showcase is an exhibition of the entertainers' items, such as soap opera props.
"Song donated a motorbike helmet and a leather jacket which he used in `East of Eden
', and Rain
, his concert costumes", Kim said.
At Star Center, visitors can see the entertainers' music videos and film scenes on a 360-degree, high-definition screen, which has been adopted in Korea for the first time.
Music Star has a small concert stage where visitors can select a song from a jukebox and then sing along and dance as if they are pop singers themselves. Their performances can also be recorded on CD.
"We also plan to have the stars hold autograph ceremonies for fans at Music Star", Kim said.
At Drama Star, sets from "Dae Jang Geum
", "East of Eden
" and "Jumong
" are set up. Visitors can try on costumes used in the dramas and have their picture taken.
With Star provides visitors with a chance to become part of the soap operas ― they can have composite photos of themselves taken in a scene from the dramas, and on movie posters or CD covers. They can then be printed on stickers.
Admission is 10,000 won, with proceeds to be donated to charity.
"We expect Star Avenue to bring tourists to southern Seoul and develop the region as a tourism and shopping destination. Lotte is developing package programs including a visit to Star Avenue. A shuttle service connecting Lotte World in southern and Lotte Hotel in northern Seoul is also under consideration", Kim said.
At the opening ceremony on June 30, stars including Rain
, Choi and Song will attend.