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SKAL Seoul Club chief urges ...‘consistent message’ in branding Korea

Swanson plans to donate books on Korea dating from 1800s


President of SKAL Seoul Club for 2011 and Millennium Seoul Hilton general manager Eric Swanson said Korean policymakers should send a “consistent” message to the outside world to make Korean tourism sustainable in the long term.

Swanson is currently busy making preparations for the 2012 SKAL World Congress to take place in Seoul on Oct. 7-12, 2012. He was picked to head the SKAL Seoul Club for 2011 in January to lay the groundwork so that his successor can host a successful 2012 SKAL event.

SKAL, drawing its name from the Scandinavian term “skal” ― meaning a toast of friendship ― is a private organization of international tourism leaders with 500 branches and 25,000 members representing 90 countries. Through the upcoming event, Korea will be be exposed to top professionals in tourism.

“When I look from 1996 until now, how Koreans have marketed and branded Korea has grown tremendously. But where I see the lack of linkage is in the message we send outside Korea,” Swanson told The Korea Herald.

“You’re changing leadership positions too regularly. For a long-term sustainable tourism, what must come first is the story. We have to send a consistent message so that people say ‘one day before I die, I wanna see Korea.’”

He took the example of Korea’s official tourism slogan, which has changed three times ― from “Dynamic Korea” to “Korea, Sparkling” to “Korea, Inspiring.”

On the other hand, Swanson still remembers the TV commercial “Come to Bali” in the 1960s, which showed beautiful scenery of Bali’s beaches.

“It was mysterious and I thought I wanted to go to Bali one day, and I finally did that for a special occasion in my life,” he said.

Korean policymakers also have to realize that they cannot please everyone, Swanson said.

When Koreans try to promote hansik, or Korean food, they emphasize Westernizing it and changing it to satisfy all outsiders. However, “Japanese foods are successful because they are Japanese,” he said.
Eric Swanson, president of SKAL Seoul Club for 2011 and general manager of the Millennium Seoul Hilton, speaks during an interview in Seoul. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Eric Swanson, president of SKAL Seoul Club for 2011 and general manager of the Millennium Seoul Hilton, speaks during an interview in Seoul. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

As president of SKAL Seoul Club, Swanson is working with the Korea Tourism Organization, the Seoul Tourism Organization and the Incheon Tourism Organization to obtain their financial commitments for the 2012 SKAL World Congress.

The budget for the 2012 SKAL meeting in Seoul is estimated at about $1 million, of which some will be borne by SKAL members themselves as they will pay for their own accommodations and airfare, Swanson said.

Besides the most obvious impact of exposing the country to 1,000 to 1,500 experts in the travel industry, the upcoming SKAL World Congress is likely to generate about $1.5 million to $2 million in combined revenue for hotels, airliners, rail industries, shipping companies and education organizations, he said.

“There isn’t any other event such as this that houses all of them in one place and that has the support of the Korean government,” he said.

The 2012 SKAL World Congress will start with an event in Songdo and move to Seoul for the first gala dinner in Changdeok Palace. Participants will be exposed to different activities and events that show the “true taste” of Korea, and the final event will take place at the Floating Island, the amusement park being built on the Han River near Banpo Bridge.

The half-Korean Swanson’s mother is Cho Chang-soo, the late curator of the Korea Gallery at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. He also shared his views on France’s return of Korea’s ancient royal books that were looted by the French army in the late 19th century in the form of a 5-year loan.

Cho contributed to the return of 93 national treasures from the U.S. back to Korea. She passed away due to cancer in November 2009.

“It doesn’t make much sense to me. They’re the property of Korea and they went to France not in a way that was approved by the government,” Swanson said.

Swanson went on to say that he plans on donating his mother’s research books to one of the universities in Korea, possibly Seoul National University or Yonsei University.

Cho had an extensive collection of research books that she used during her time at the Smithsonian and some of them date back to the 1800s.

“They’re here (in a room next to his office), still in boxes, and I have some up in our suites. It would be unfortunate for them to sit on the shelves,” he said.

By Kim Yoon-mi (yoonmi@heraldcorp.com)
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