Traditional market tours show real slice of Korea
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Traditional markets may be fast losing their allure among Koreans but they are being marketed as destinations for foreign tourists and expats who want to experience a real and deeper slice of Korea.
The Agency for Traditional Market Administration (ATMA) organized a tour to help foreign tourists and expats have first-hand experience of authentic Korean markets.
The first batch of some 80 foreigners, divided into three groups, joined the day tour to the fish market in the northeastern seaside city of Sokcho, Gangwon Province, on Sept. 15 and 16.
During the organized tour, the participants took part in a quiz, took photos and mixed with the market vendors for a UCC contest under the guidance of an English interpreter. They also learned about pollack at a nearby museum.
The visitors experienced the vibrant lively back-and-forth between vendors and local consumers as they negotiated price discounts.
Rehana Martin, a full-time university student, said the Sokcho trip was amazing. “It gave us as foreigners a lot of insight into Korea and its traditional markets. The history of the traditional market and the pollack was quite interesting and so were all the activities we had to do,” the 30-year-old South African told The Korea Times.
“Even the local Koreans in the traditional market were very helpful. They helped us as group B win the UCC presentation. The cherry on top was that we got to go to Mount Seorak on the cable car which was amazing because we saw so much of the beauty Korea has to offer.”
The trip was ATMA’s first traditional market tour designed for foreign tourists and expats living in Korea. The agency, established in 2010 to revitalize traditional markets as vendors suffered severe income losses as consumers opted for large retailers, plans to organize another traditional market tour in Seoul and Busan in October.
Hong Soo-jung, a public relations officer, said the market tour would help revitalize the local economy as it will have a positive spillover effect on tourism to the region.
“The participants of the Sokcho market tour varied in terms of nationality, age and profession. We had people from China, Japan, Europe and America. Some of them were tourists, some have lived in Korea for many years for their job and some were students pursuing a degree at university,” she said.
“The market tour was designed to help market vendors as they have suffered from a severe income loss. By adding the tourism element, we are targeting global tourists to have fun, feel the local culture and boost consumption there.”
The income losses facing vendors and owners of small stores prompted 35 local governments to adopt a series of regulatory measures on large retailers regarding opening times and a compulsory two Sundays closure every month to encourage consumers to shop at traditional markets or nearby mom-and-pop stores. The effectiveness of such regulations, however, remains uncertain.