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[Herald Interview] Korean entrepreneur wins business rights for cable car project in Sri Lanka

Sky Asia Chairman Yoo Sun-ha shows Kandy cable car project approval document in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Friday. (Park Hyun-koo/ The Korea Herald)
Sky Asia Chairman Yoo Sun-ha shows Kandy cable car project approval document in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Friday. (Park Hyun-koo/ The Korea Herald)

A Korean entrepreneur has won the business rights to a cable car project in Sri Lanka’s Kandy -- home of the Temple of the Tooth Relic, which is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the world.

The entrepreneur is 71-year-old Sky Asia Chairman Yoo Sun-ha.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the construction will begin next year and the cable car is expected to open by the end of 2022. It will connect 2.2 kilometers from downtown Kandy and Hanthana Mountain. A total of $35 million will be invested in the project.

“I met Sri Lanka’s culture and tourism ministers by chance in 2012 and I did not speak fluent English,“ Yoo said during the interview with The Korea Herald on Friday. “They kept saying something about Kandy Municipal. I thought they were talking about candy, not Kandy.”

The Sri Lankan officials offered Yoo multiple places to invest in Sri Lanka, including Kandy. At the time, he was in charge of setting up Korea’s first maritime cable car in the southern port city of Yeosu.

“The most important thing in the cable car business is the number of tourists,” Yoo said. “How many tourists annually visit where I want to build a cable car and how do the number of visitors vary each month? It has to be over at least 2.5 million (a year).”

Located in the middle of Sri Lanka, Kandy is one of the biggest tourist cities in the South Asian country. The entire city was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988. It sees an average of 5 million visitors per year.

The number of visitors to Kandy’s most famous tourist attraction, the Royal Botanical Gardens, is around 2 million in a year. The proportion of foreign tourists is measured at only 12 percent, according to Yoo’s on-site research. That is why the Sky Asia Chairman is not fazed by the coronavirus.

“Buddhism is Sri Lanka’s biggest religion and Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy is one of the must-visit sites in Buddhism,” he said. “Vitalizing Sri Lanka’s domestic economy runs through the sacred places of Buddhism.”

Asked what was the secret to his business success, the Korean cable car pioneer emphasized one thing – “personal network.”

“It is simple. When I was working at Kolon, I built my personal network and background,” he said. “I tell people ‘Make 10 friends, ten good friends when you are abroad. Do not worry about other things like the income. That personal network will be able to help you when you are out of job.’ I have always lived in that way for my entire life.”

Since his first cable car project in Yeosu, Yoo has worked with French lift manufacturer Poma. He also successfully completed Myanmar’s first cable car in Mon State in 2017.

Although he declined to be called as the living legend of Korean cable car, Yoo said, “I can say it with confidence that I am a Korean pioneer in winning business rights for cable cars in foreign countries.”

By Kan Hyeong-woo (hwkan@heraldcorp.com)
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