Saturday, January 15, 2011

Seoul Fights Back Against Tourists

The Seoul Metropolitan Government, concerned by the creeping Eslamification of Korea which has seen an increasing number of English words and signs enter everyday use, is planning to create a 470,000 square meter 'Hangeul Zone' in central Seoul near Sejongno Street. In the zone, only Hangeul lettering will be permitted with existing English and other non-Korean lettering designed to help tourists being phased out.

"We'll turn the center of Seoul's politics, culture and history into the center of Hangeul culture and tourism, in an effort to promote Korea's native alphabet, which is also a world-class cultural heritage." a city official said.

In the last decade Korea's tourism industry has spent billions of won on non-Korean language signage in English, Japanese and Chinese to cater to the influx of foreign visitors, but some Koreans have maintained that foreign tourists should be expected to be able to speak Korean before they come here. While it has been argued that if other countries adopted the same attitude with their languages, Koreans would never take another overseas holiday again, it seems that the Hangeul-Only Movement is winning the debate.

While it is hoped the plan will promote Korea's native alphabet, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has pressed ahead with plans to bulldoze the city's last remaining 'hanoks' - traditional-style housing which some say are also a unique historical and cultural asset. The Seoul Government said that a few several-hundred year-old houses were neither here nor there, and as long as Paris Baguette had its sign written in Hangeul it believed that the important essence of Korean culture was being maintained.

If the Hangeul-Only plan is successful, other districts within the city are expected to follow suit, and the Korea Tourism Organization says it will consider removing the non-Korean versions of its website to encourage potential visitors to learn Korea's world-class cultural language before they come to this country. "It`s difficult to say whether we are trying too hard to cater to and accommodate foreign tourists, rather than encouraging them more to try and speak Korean." said the Korea Tourism Organization`s executive director of public relations.

When surveyed, foreign tourists have consistently cited the lack of non-Korean signage coupled with Koreans' lack of foreign-language abilities and unwillingness to speak anything except Korean as a major hurdle in getting around Seoul and Korea.

An attempt to speak to tourists about the removal of foreign language signs within the new Hangeul neighborhood was stopped by city officials who said we could only proceed if we conducted the interviews in Korean.

"Koreans are the most hospitable people in the world." explained the CEO of the Seoul Tourism Organization, who launched a 'Be Kind to Foreigners' campaign last year.

Related Links
Hangeul zone envisioned in central Seoul
'After You' Campaign Proposed for Tourism
Tourists irked by shopping, taxis
Seoul City Criticized for Demolition of 'Hanok'

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