Q&A: Samuel Koo, Seoul Tourism Organization

Alexandra Bruell talks to Samuel Koo, president and CEO of Seoul Tourism Organization/Convention Bureau, about the current Korean tourism campaign he is working on.

Alexandra Bruell talks to Samuel Koo, president and CEO of Seoul Tourism Organization/Convention Bureau and chairman of Culture and Tourism Committee of Presidential Council on Nation Branding, about the current Korean tourism campaign he is working on.

Alexandra Bruell: Tell us about the current campaign you are working on?

Samuel Koo: This is the first year of the three-year “Visit Korea with Seoul” promotion. This year we played host to the G-20 summit and were also recently designated as a UNESCO Design city.  And for three years in a row the number of incoming visitors ­- tourists included - hit a new high so there are many, many reasons to celebrate.

And during that time when you saw this new high of incoming visitors and tourists were the majority of those visitors from the U.S?

No - Japan, China, and the United States.  All said and done some 700,000 Americans will have visited Korea this year and that's up about 150,000 over last year.

And when did you launch this campaign? 

January 1, but of course we have been planning this for some time. In the summer we took the campaign to Europe and we did road shows in Berlin, Brussels, London, and Frankfurt.

So you are just starting to enter the US market with this campaign?

Yes, with this campaign. This is a signal that we will be hitting the American market with gusto. It's going to be a sustained campaign.

Can you tell me about the different marketing components?  I understand you are sponsoring a lot of events. What else are you doing in terms of PR and advertising?

We are doing PR and of course advertising through professional magazines, homepages, social media, and then we are targeting association markets. The channels are quite diverse. What we are pushing is not just for individual tourism, but also to attract conventions and corporate meetings.

It sounds like you are doing a lot of sponsorship of conferences. Are you just looking to build media relations with business publications?

No, we are actually seeking the convention opportunities. We want US organizations to come to Seoul to organize their conventions and corporate meetings. Our agents are contacting the protagonists of these associations through their periodicals and their websites.

Do you have a specific goal in mind?  Is there are specific number of US tourists you are looking to attract?

For the city of Seoul, we have set a target of reaching 12 million visitors in two years.  So that means we would have to add an extra three million visitors to the present level. 

What is your main message in this campaign?  What are you looking to communicate to consumers and businesses?

Our message is that Seoul has emerged as a premiere Asian metropolis of design, culture, and fun and has already become a top tourism and convention destination.  It's recognized worldwide as a top-tier design city. We have been cited for superior air and water quality as a model of an environment-friendly tourism city. 

You mentioned you are using a lot of different marketing disciplines.  Why you are going with this approach?

We can't be everywhere with the Korean staff, so we have to work with partners. We are forging a grand alliance campaign.

Who is your main audience among tourists?

We have Korean Americans of the third and fourth generation who have not even been to Korea, so that's one target. The second target is the American soldiers who have served in Korea over the last five decades, and their families, and relatives. There is an obvious Korean connection. We want to thank them. We want to salute them. 

How much of this campaign is promoted through PR?  Would you say 20% is promoted through PR?  Is there a way you can quantify it?

Hard to tell, but I will say that's just about right...20%.

Has your work in the US changed with the political challenges going on between North and South Korea?

This sort of thing happens with the frequency and unpredictability of a volcanic eruption, a SARS epidemic, or sudden financial meltdown and we can't really plan our lives worrying about these things. So life goes on.

So you are not looking to ease any of the fears or consumer perceptions through some of these promotions?

We are not looking at a crystal ball. As long as there is a hostile Korean entity the only thing we can be guided by is how infrequent it has been. And in terms of casualties this is the first time that on a remote island we had two civilians killed. So far there hasn't been any sort of a disruption within the country that will impact the normal life of citizens, let alone tourists.

We are talking about Seoul but we are also talking about broader Korea.  Is your message really focused on Seoul or is it more about Korea?

Today I am here representing Seoul, but Seoul is the capital of the country. The entire country is pushing the tourist convention promotion, so it's all a package deal.

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