Market-leading integrated resort (IR) developer Paradise Group is building Korea’s first IR near the international airport in Incheon at a cost of more than $1 billion. With the first phase of the development set to open in early 2017 and the final stages completed before the 2018 Winter Olympics, Chairman Phil-lip Chun is confident that Paradise City will be prove to be an enticing destination for people all over the world and a global beacon for K-culture and K-style.
How do you assess the potential of tourism in to emerge as a powerful engine of growth for Korea going forward?
It is a really big part of the national agenda to find new growth engines in every sector and at every level, otherwise we will enter another economic crisis. How we deal with this is going to determine our destiny. In that sense, the tourism industry has been playing a critical role in driving the country’s economic growth.
Allow me to explain about my company’s role in this. My company has been leading the tourism and hospitality industry for 45 years and it is centered on the casino industry. As a pioneer in the Korean tourism industry, we have such a sense of duty to contribute to the nation’s economy. Along with this deep sense of duty, we want to create a new future in the tourism sector with an innovative vision. We need to secure a certain competitiveness in our tourism and hospitality industry.
China is an important force because China has been emerging as a power to rival the United States, so it is a really key market. Korea is well located to take advantage of China’s rise because we are within a four-hour flight of 1.6 billion people. Also, Korea and China have a good relationship historically.
We are also well positioned in terms of culture. Even more than Japan, Korea has been accepting and accommodating the Western culture because, as you know, after the Korean War in the 1950s, our country was literally in the ashes. We emerged from the ashes of the war and achieved a global rebirth. We also made a great success of industrialization and democratization. Throughout this process, I believe that the US made certain sacrifices for us. Many young American soldiers sacrificed themselves for the war against the Communists. Without strong support from the US, we would not have had that kind of miracle. Socially and culturally we have been heavily influenced by the US.
I would like to tell you how we have received certain influences from the US by generation. From 1952 to 1980, we call it the industrialization generation. From 1980 to 2000, it is the democratization generation. Post-2000 we call it the millennial generation. I came of age in the 1980s and I have been very much influenced by American culture. We were always looking towards Hollywood. We were also impressed with the taste of hamburgers from McDonald’s. The billboard music charts were always the must-see thing for me. Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley were the biggest stars for the Korean people.
Korea and the US remain in a strong alliance today, both militarily and politically. So we accommodate and embrace both Western and Oriental values.
The reason why I’m telling you all these stories is that I really want to let you know the identity of the Korean people, and also the national identity of Korea and the force behind tourism growth. I really want to compare our tourism capabilities against our competition, which is Japan and China. I know that Japan is very famous. It has a cultural philosophy, which is called Zen. Zen has been exported to the Western world and is well known. Compared to Zen, we have the Korean Wave, or Hallyu. It’s less known to the Western world, but it is very well known in all Asian countries. Korea is, literally, sweeping away the Asian countries with its cultural products. Hallyu is kind of a fragmented picture of the country. You cannot see the entire picture. But through the Korean Wave, I think Korea has opened its market and undergone a lot of changes.
I think this can also be compared to China. China opened its market after the cultural revolution. However, it is a very limited opening because in terms of culture and creativity they have a lot of restrictions. China has become a big economic power, while its culture and creative industry is slowly making global gains. I really want to focus on why Korea is very competitive against these two countries. We are accommodating the Western values along with traditional values. By doing this, we were able to come up with K-style. That’s why K-style, K-pop and other Korean culture are very attractive to many people in the world. Our nationality, our characteristics, are very unique because we have creative DNA.
Many people say that Koreans are very smart and savvy in everything, much like the Jewish people. Maybe Korea is a little bit smaller than any state in the US, but it is the 12th largest economy in the world. Why is that? Because there is a certain power, ingenuity and creativity in our people. You can see that in our sports stars, in our pop stars and in our scientists. They refuse to be limited to Korea physically; they are determined to make a name for themselves in the world. This is proof that Korea has a lot of good human resources, so it has more power and potential against any competitors, including China. I believe outstanding creativity led by Korea’s talented manpower and broad cultural embracement will be the main driving forces behind the growth of Korean tourism.
I also want to re-emphasize the point I made earlier about geographical location. We are in a pivotal position in the trans-Pacific region, with China on one side and the US on the other. Politically and diplomatically we are located between the world’s two strongest powers. We have strong relations with China as well as with the US. We can be the bridge and mediator between these countries, both politically and culturally.
I hope that tourism will also serve as a bridge between Western and Eastern culture. I think the “Korean Wave” is not an accurate name because behind the Korean Wave there is a pan-Asian cultural philosophy. It also contains modified Western culture. It’s sort of a hybrid between the two. We have the ability to reinterpret the Western culture and incorporate it into the pan-Asian culture. I hope that our different cultures will be shared with people from all around the world through our tourism industry.
Are you concerned about Korea’s over-reliance on the Chinese tourism market? What is your assessment of Korea’s potential to diversify its tourism markets and attract more visitors from a wider variety of countries?
I think China presents opportunity rather than concern. In fact, the number of Chinese tourists traveling abroad is growing exponentially. The Chinese National Tourism Administration predicts that the number of outbound Chinese tourists will increase up to 600 million within five years and by the year 2024, it will outnumber the US, the current number one. Likewise, as more and more Chinese tourists go abroad, it is highly likely that more will come to Korea.
According to the analysis of Nomura Securities, in 2020 the number of Chinese visitors to Japan will reach 13.5 million while those visiting Korea will be 15.5 million.
In addition, according to the statistics, only 5% of Chinese currently have a passport for overseas travel. This shows how much potential China has for us; it could be inexhaustible.
We know that when it comes to travel, people always start traveling to the closest country. Korea is right next door. It is easy for the Chinese people to visit Korea. Korea is very diverse in culture. We can be a very good destination for many Chinese. Even though we have certain risks involved, we still believe that China is a strong target country for tourism. We cannot ignore the Chinese market. We really need to focus on it.
What impact do you think Paradise City will have on Korea’s overall tourism product and international image as a final tourism destination?
So far I think the Korean Wave and the Korean culture have been very appealing for many types of foreign tourists, but the problem is that when you try to experience Korean culture, most of the contents have been scattered. You cannot enjoy the Korean Wave in one single place. We want foreign visitors to enjoy the Korean cultural wave in Korea, which has been recognized and loved by many global citizens through the K-style, with K-pop, K-beauty and K-food. All of these will be enjoyed all in one single place in Paradise City. We will provide a one-stop service. So you can see, enjoy and actually experience all of the Korean culture in one place. We are going to complete Paradise City before the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. We want to project our own identity, which is the K-style and K-culture.
Before we planned Paradise City, we received a lot of consultation advice on the main theme from MGM. We were worried about what would be the best idea and MGM said that you don’t have to worry about it because you already have an identity: K-style. You can build your own idea centered on the Korean style culture. That’s why we came up with this concept. We believe that this idea will show the proper way of the Korean culture to many foreign visitors. We will take K-style to the world.
Asia already has several casino meccas, most notably Macau, Singapore and perhaps even the Philippines. Do you see Incheon’s Paradise City as a rival those destinations? If so, what are your competitive advantages?
Each casino has its own market share in certain geographical areas. For example, Singapore accommodates Singaporeans for gambling, and they also have visitors from Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Macao also has a market in the nearby area, such as Hong Kong. Some 70% of Macao’s visitors are from mainland China, but they don’t stay in the hotels or any accommodation facilities; they go straight home.
Paradise City, Korea’s first K-style integrated resort, is ideally located, within a four-hour flight from all the major cities of Northeast Asia, home to 1.6 billion people. For those living in Northeast China and Japan, it is closer than Macao or Singapore. Furthermore, this is the only place where you can enjoy most trendy and creative Hallyu and no other place can match us in terms of the experiences we will offer.
What are your expectations for US visitor numbers to Paradise City, and do you believe Paradise City has the potential to be a final destination for American visitors to Asia?
Frankly speaking, we haven’t done an in-depth study on the American market. However, I believe that there will be an extensive cultural exchange between Asia and Western countries in the coming years and that person-to-person exchanges will increase as well. For many American people, Japan and Korea are closer than any other country. Americans can feel welcome in Korea and Japan. In Seoul you can find everything that you can find in the US in terms of food and entertainment.
More than that, everything from the US has been reintroduced and reinterpreted in Korea. With the expansion of the people-to-people exchanges there will be a lot of opportunities for us to accommodate more Americans. Fried chicken, burgers, even ‘bomb’ alcohol drinks… all these ‘American’ products have been popularized and reinterpreted in Korea. I believe that there will be a lot of opportunities for American people to enjoy their culture in Korea. Americans can also enjoy the nightlife here. Unlike Japan, everything here remains open long after midnight. From that perspective we need to think about many things for the US visitors. You have given us homework to do!
How would you sum up your overall vision for the company going forward, both domestically and internationally?
The vision of Paradise is to be the “Destination Creator”, which means that Paradise will create places that people definitely want to visit for new emotional experiences. With that in mind, we are now focusing our all capacity on Paradise City on Yeongjongdo Island, which will be the first component of this endeavor. At Paradise City, we really want to accommodate diversity and differences between Western and Eastern culture. We want to elevate Paradise City to something with artistic value. We are going to throw certain exhibitions for artists from West and East. These exhibitions will infuse certain positive inspirations to the audience. We will also have Christmas Market and a New Year’s celebration for Chinese people. We have that kind of value in Paradise City.
I would like to present a Korean version of integrated resorts as a new business model to the world through Paradise City. Many people will come here as a new experience. Beyond that they will use the facility as a venue for communication and inspiration. Our main idea is the happiness of human beings. We really want to offer a certain happiness to those who visit. We started by analyzing how people find happiness. That is something that we will keep thinking about even after the completion of Paradise City.
We will grow into a global company with the success of Paradise City. Paradise City is only the beginning. This is only a stepping stone for us. Starting from Paradise City, we are planning to develop the second and third ‘destinations’ of the future.