Hyundai Asan to boost North Korea tourism

Korea Herald
Kim Yoon-mi

Eight years have passed since the late Chung Ju-yung, the former chairman of Hyundai Group, initiated the first inter-Korean tourism business with Hyundai Asan Corp., which operates tours to North Korea’s Mount Geumgang resort.

Since Hyundai Asan’s tour businesses have been held back by the North’s mixed messages and frequent changes in Seoul’s policy toward Pyongyang, they plan to attract 400,000 South Korean tourists and fast-track the official launch of tour of the North Korean city of Gaeseong, Hyundai officials said yesterday.

Hyundai Asan president and CEO Yoon Man-joon on Saturday paid a tribute to the family graveyard of the late Chung Ju-yung and Chung Mong-hun with Hyundai Asan executives. Yoon asked them to put forward their best efforts to meet the 2007 business target, Yonhap News reported.

“Although we had some difficulties last year, I’m doing my best to do better. We will see a good result this year if every one gets proactive,” Yonhap News quoted Yoon as saying.

Hyundai Asan’s tourism plan in Gaeseong was dampened when North Korea requested to sign a deal with another Korean company Lotte Tours Co. in August 2005, despite the earlier contract with Hyundai Asan.

In January this year, North Korea seemed turning to the original contract with Hyundai Asan when Seoul’s Unification Minister Lee Jae-young and Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun visited an industrial complex in Gaeseong on Jan. 24.

However, Pyongyang media once again denied South Korea’s local reports that the North will promote Gaeseong tourism with Hyundai Asan.

The biggest blow to Hyundai Asan last year was North Korea’s nuclear test on Oct. 9. With the tension created on the Korean peninsular after North’s nuclear test, the number of Mount Geumgang tourists plummeted, causing the failure of Hyundai Asan to meet the initial target of 400,000 vivitors. The number reached only 240,000 last year.

Hyundai Asan’s posted sales of 235 billion won ($249 million) and an operating profit of 2 billion won last year, which is a disappointing performance according to experts.

This year, Hyundai Asan said it will beef up its profitability by launching a new tour package to inner Geumgang, a golf course at the mountain resort, and offering a Gaeseong tour.

According to the company, it will open a new tour of inner Geumgang in April, have a test round at the golf course in June and open it in late October, aiming to attract more tourists.

For the Gaeseong industrial complex, Hyundai Asan said it will complete laying the ground work on the 3.3 million square meters of land by June and start working-level meetings on the second-phase development of the area with North Korean officials later on.

“The urgent issue for our company this year is to establish a solid profit structure so that it won’t be shaken by North Korean issues,” Yonhap quoted an official at Hyunda Asan as saying.


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