World Cup gives South Korea's tourism a kick
By Bob Retzlaff
There's no question that foreign travelers' interest in South Korea is on the upswing.
The world's only "true football" event: This year's soccer World Cup.
For years, the Asian country was largely a destination only for travelers from the Far East. Japanese, Chinese and others from that region dominated South Korea's tourist count.
But the World Cup, which South Korea co-hosted with Japan for the one-month premier soccer event May 31-June 1, found hundreds of thousands more visitors, many of them from the West, including such European soccer hotbeds as England, France, Italy and Germany.
Among the World Cup visitors was no stranger to South Korea -- Veronica Min Wotpika of Rochester. Visiting her family there as she has done often, Wotpika was caught up in World Cup enthusiasm like everyone else.
Seoul, where her family lives, hosted the South Korean portion of the games and "everyone was outside watching the games on a giant-screen TV well into the late night and early morning," she relates.
The Associated Press reports that many foreigners easily got into the swing of things mingling with South Koreans. An AP article notes that at one prominent rendezvous point, around a giant bronze statue of Lee Sun-shin, a 16th century Korean admiral said to have defeated a Japanese naval invasion, many foreigners sang and danced with Koreans while watching matches on a jumbo TV.
Seoul, a city of 12 million people, is a mix of old and new and surrounded by craggy mounts. Insa-dong in the city center is lined with hundreds of small shoots that swell Oriental brushes and other antiques, while nearby Tapgol Park is a popular meeting place for old people to gossip and read newspapers.
There were many varied accommodations for the throngs of foreigners attending the games, including a unique "Temple Stay in Korea" program. The AP notes that more than 1,000 foreigners stayed briefly at temples throughout the country at low cost during the games.
The South Korean portion of the World Cup was held in 10 cities, including Seoul, Gyeongju and Daegu. The host cities are industrial, educational or transportation hubs linking the country.
South Korea is an Indiana-sized country with a population of 47 million.
Rising from the ashes of the Korean War a half century ago, the country today has one of the world's biggest economies.
The Panama Canal has developed into one of the world's most popular cruising attractions -- the number of ships going through the canal or cruising within it has almost doubled in just a few years.
But the specter of higher tolls to cruise that passageway from the Atlantic to the Pacific is casting shadows on its continued popularity.
The U.S. gave up its interest in operating the canal two and a half years ago, and control is now vested in a private company.
And now the firm is proposing to raise tolls by 13 percent, effective next year.
That action, as one would expect, is drawing heated opposition from cruise lines, and at least a dozen of the world's largest lines schedule canal cruises, mostly in the winter.
Big money is at stake.
We've sailed the canal twice on Royal Cruise Line and Holland America Line ships, and the tolls that each paid were in the $80,000 to $90,000 range.
Tolls are based on size of ship and number of passengers.
Princess Cruises, another big player in the cruise industry with some of the industry's largest ships, figures that the added tolls will add $40,000 to the cost of each cruise, or possibly $20 per passenger.
As a result, Princess is rethinking its 2003-2004 schedule which lists 52 trips through the canal, officials told Travel Weekly.
Cruise lines say they account for only 2 percent of the volume of the canal but pay 4 percent of the revenue.
The Julia Belle Swain, one of only three authentic steamboats cruising the Mississippi River, will be offering a first-ever trip from La Crosse upriver to Stillwater Sept. 2-7.
The tour offers options for those who can't take the time to spend a week on a tour, but can do a leg of the tour and be motorcoached back the same day or spend the night at a river town hotel and return the following morning.
All lodging is in river towns with tours and shopping part of the agenda.
Cruisers will stay overnight at the historic Lumber Baron's Hotel in Stillwater and the St. James Hotel in Red Wing.
In addition to the Stillwater tour, the Julia Belle Swain offers lunch and dinner cruises from ports in La Crosse and Winona, two-day overnights, and other specialty tours all fall.
Reservations are necessary.
Call 800-815-1005 for information.
The Web address with all itineraries and schedules is www.juliabelle.com.