Monday, February 4, 2013

Korea’s Cultural Heritage as Global Tourist Attractions

By Choi Myeong-hee
Mayor of Gangneung

Frank Gehry, the world-renowned architect who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Spain, recently visited Jongmyo Shrine. This was his second visit to Jongmyo after the first one in 1994, when he also visited Korea for the first time. At that time, the architect said that he did not know Korea had such beautiful architecture, and he wondered why Korea had not shown off this great cultural asset to the world. The deep impression he had then probably led him to take the opportunity this time to look at the shrine once again.
Korea`s cultural heritage, which often leaves such profound impressions on foreigners, doesn`t seem to receive the proper recognition it deserves at home. This year, it is expected that well over 11 million foreign tourists will visit Korea. The overseas craze for Korean pop culture, or hallyu, prompted by TV dramas and K-pop, has greatly contributed to attracting a growing number of foreign tourists. In addition, the explosive popularity of Psy`s recent hit “Gangnam Style” has been a good opportunity to promote Korea in many countries around the globe.
However, now is the time that we should expand the Korean Wave from the current boundary limited to popular culture to the broader realm of cultural heritage, which is permeated with our indigenous history and tradition. To do this, the tourism industry needs to discard its simplistic paradigm focused on providing resources for dining, drinking and having momentary enjoyments, and transform it to increase opportunities for foreign visitors to experience and learn about Korea`s ancient history and traditional culture.
For example, when Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom visited Korea several years ago, she was invited to a traditional village in Andong, and her visit to the village, where descendants of the ancient Korean aristocracy have maintained their age-old lifestyle. The invitation helped propagate awareness of Korean culture throughout the world.
The Dano Festival of Gangneung was designated as one of UNESCO`s Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005. As Gangwon Province`s notable cultural heritage, the Dano Festival, held in the coastal city of Gangneung on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month every year, has become an event not just for local residents but for tourists who stream in from all over the country. The festival, which has continued as a regional celebration for roughly a millennium, could be developed into a program for foreign tourists.
At the 2012 ICCN World Intangible Heritage Festival, scheduled to be held in Gangneung on November 19-29, UNESCO-registered traditional performances representing 23 countries, including Italy`s Sicilian Puppet Theater, Argentina`s tango, and Korea`s Gangneung Gwanno Mask Dance Drama (included in the historical repertoire of the Dano Festival), will be showcased together.
The ICCN (Inter-city Intangible Cultural Cooperation Network) is an international organization launched in 2008 with the cooperation of various cities around the world for the purpose of preserving and developing the world`s intangible cultural heritage. It is the first international body created under the initiative of Korea`s local government, with Gangneung taking responsibility as its representative and secretariat. The task of creating a systematic inventory of the world`s intangible cultural heritage has not been easy because it involves mobilizing professional human resources with the limited budget of a local government.  
The ICCN festival is not just an event to introduce traditional Korean culture to foreign tourists, but is also an opportunity to prepare and publicize the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Spreading Korea`s popular culture widely in the world is meaningful indeed, but the foundation for the Korean Wave will become wider and stronger if Korea`s intangible cultural contents are transformed into tourism resources, especially the ones recognized by UNESCO, such as the Dano Festival of Gangneung.
The cultural prowess thus gained will also elevate Korea`s prestige in the world. To carry out this task, we need to unearth and raise awareness of our intangible cultural contents. In this sense, this year`s ICCN festival in Gangneung will be a full-fledged flare signaling the start of the “Korean Wave 2.0,” making Korea`s intangible cultural heritage widely known throughout the world.

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