Promoting Việt Nam tourism with love

February 13, 2022 - 08:36

South Korean Lee Chang-kun, a descendant of the Vietnamese Lý Royal family, has just been re-appointed as the ambassador for Vietnamese tourism in South Korea between 2021 and 2024. This is his second term in this role.

South Korean Lee Chang-kun, a 31st generation descendant of King Lý Thái Tổ, the founder of the Lý Dynasty (1010-1225), has just been re-appointed as the ambassador for Vietnamese tourism in South Korea between 2021 and 2024. This is his second term in this role.

Lê Hương chats with him about his mission.

Lee Chang-kun will act as Việt Nam's tourism ambassador in South Korea for a second term. VNS Photo Nguyễn Nam

Inner Sanctum: What challenges did you face as an ambassador for Việt Nam’s tourism in the last term [2017-2020]? How did you deal with them?

The Việt Nam Tourism Promotion Representative Office was set up for the first time in June 2019 in Seoul, which attracted the interest of many local travel agencies and people.

We still lacked Việt Nam travel brochures. Many people passing by the office wanted to have them. If the Vietnamese tourism authority allots a certain budget, I would like to order some offline advertisements to put in the office to give free to people interested.

After the pandemic, we will face severe competition with other nations, especially neighbouring countries.

I hope the Vietnamese Government will pay more attention and prepare enough budget for tourism promotion for the South Korean market.

Inner Sanctum: What are your targets in this new term?

We will do various research on the ways to approach South Korean tourists in a friendly way. Luckily, Việt Nam has been among South Korean travellers’ favourite destinations.

If we have a chance, we will lure new South Korean visitors and the ones who have been to Việt Nam to return. I hope millions of Vietnamese people residing all over the world will support their homeland.

For me, as a descendant of King Lý Thái Tổ, I have returned to my homeland after 800 years. With the tradition of remembering our roots, I hope that Vietnamese people all over the world will give priority to Việt Nam as their first destination for a visit.

This year will be an important year for the two countries – celebrating the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties. The year 2022 will be a wonderful time for South Koreans who have been to Việt Nam to return to the country. In South Korea, many events are being prepared for the celebration. When people join in the events, it will be a good chance to advertise the image of Việt Nam.

Inner Sanctum: What are your plans to reach those targets during an unpredictable pandemic?

Everything has ceased and many people have been bogged down with difficulties due to COVID-19. Yet I believe, the pandemic will soon be over and life will become normal again. Especially in the field of tourism, everything is like in 1992 when Việt Nam and South Korean set up their diplomatic relationship.

I think the economic depression resulting from the pandemic may be a good chance to develop tourism. Though in the past few years, Việt Nam has received many South Korean visitors, there remain some weak points that we should improve.

It is high time we built proper policies and programmes to ensure convenience, thrift and safety for South Korean tourists in the future. Of course, we should count on ensuring the budget for developing Việt Nam’s tourism. The trend of tours for South Korean people will certainly change and South Koreans require the above-mentioned convenience, thrift and safety.

We should prepare a special tourism programme to introduce immediately to tourists as soon as the pandemic is under control and international flights resume. We should take the opportunity to quickly introduce the product to the South Korean market together with what we have prepared and practised for the situation.

Inner Sanctum: What do you think your advantages are in carrying out this mission besides your sincere love for Việt Nam?

Many people in South Korea know me. And when the Vietnamese Government facilitated me to have Vietnamese nationality, the South Korean people were surprised. They praised the Vietnamese as a wonderful people, who highly appreciate tradition.

Hence, many South Korean people feel curious to know how long the historic relationship between Việt Nam and South Korea is.

When I introduced Việt Nam in the Korean language, South Korean people believed me, which inspired them to know more about the country and visit it.

Inner Sanctum: Could you brief us on your process for applying for Vietnamese nationality?

South Koreans take great respect for their ancestors. Thus, on the Mid-Autumn Festival (the full moon of the eighth lunar month), people visit their ancestors’ tombs. I am the same. I care a lot about who my ancestors are.

When I was small, I heard that I was a descendant of the Lý royal family from Việt Nam. In 1967, I read some stories on the descendants of the family living in South Korea, and I understood more about my roots. My pride has grown ever since.

In 1992, when the two countries officially established diplomatic relations, I decided to visit my homeland. I visited the Đô Temple in Bắc Ninh Province, which worships the Lý kings, and my heart has gradually beaten for Việt Nam ever since.

Naturally, I thought I should recover my Vietnamese identity. However, at that time the South Korean Government did not accept two nationalities. I was very worried about losing my South Korean nationality.

I asked ambassador Nguyễn Phú Bình, the first ambassador of Việt Nam to South Korea. He was then the chairman of the State Committee on Vietnamese overseas under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I had an official answer.

I submitted a letter to ask for Vietnamese nationality in 2008 and experienced various procedures before being accepted. In June 2010, I was granted Vietnamese nationality.

Lee Chang-kun stands by a tree that he and other descendants of the Lý royal family planted at the Đô Temple in Bắc Ninh Province. Photo

Inner Sanctum: What most impresses you about the Vietnamese country and people? Where do you like most in Việt Nam? What Vietnamese dish do you like most?

As I love Việt Nam more than anything else, I hope Việt Nam will rapidly develop and people will all have a wealthy and happy life. Vietnamese youths are adapting well to changes in the world. I think Việt Nam will have a bright future. We should not focus only on the economy, but we should develop culture and preserve distinguished Vietnamese cultural traditions.

I have been to various places in Việt Nam, from Cape Cà Mau in the south to Sa Pa in the north. I prefer the sea, so I like Phú Quốc Island most.

What I love and eat most often is chả cá (grilled fish) and bún chả (grilled pork served with rice noodle). I also like beef noodles.

The Vietnamese character, including piety to parents and respect for elders, is worth being much appreciated.

Inner Sanctum: What do you think Vietnamese tourism workers should do to satisfy South Korean visitors?

The pandemic has hindered the operation of my tourism office in Seoul. I feel sad about this. Yet I think it is high time for us to examine the way we advertise and manage tourism in order to attract more guests.

In 2019, Việt Nam received 4.3 million visitors from South Korea, and Việt Nam has been applying a visa-fee exemption policy to South Koreans. The amount of money lost due to this policy is US$86 million (around $20 per visa). The profit from South Korean visitors is much lower than this, which is a problem to be solved.

On the other hand, the Vietnamese Government often stresses the importance of tourism development but the State budget for advertising and developing tourism is always low in comparison with other countries.

As far as I can see, illegal South Korean inbound travel companies are mushrooming throughout Việt Nam. Both online companies and Korean guides are working without permission in Việt Nam. The Vietnamese Government has not been able to get tax from such business.

Package tours have been made as a co-operation between airlines, big tourism companies, local tourism companies, guides and tourists.

We should create a management system or standard code to standardise South Korean inbound tourism companies and illegal online tourism companies.

We should also issue a standard system for South Korean guides, like a training centre for them, under Việt Nam’s criteria. Through this, we can choose guides with proper qualifications and certificates [like Tour Conductor and Tour Manager].

We can also apply online payment platforms, which are popular among South Koreans. I think with payment apps, we can prevent ongoing illegal business. The proceeds can be used for the tourism fund that we need.

The Việt Nam Tourism Promotion Representative Office is now on the way to developing tourism content suitable for separate people with different purposes, such as government agencies, enterprises, TV stations, media and investors.

We are putting the tourism concepts on our website to develop a medium- and long-term plan and marketing them online. VNS

Lee Chang-kun (fourth from left) poses for a photo with Vietnamese officials at the opening ceremony of the Việt Nam Tourism Promotion Representative Office in Seoul in June 2019. Photo