The premium tourism commentary guide service is an intangible asset to the city’s recreation, culture, art, and tourism facilities and culture and heavily supported by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Seoul Tourism Organization. Currently, Seoul City offers the premium commentary guide service in nine major tourist spots with over 30 premium commentators delivering unparalleled guide service based on their professional knowledge and expertise.
Continuing from the previous issue, this issue introduces two premium commentators, who talk about behind-the-scenes stories about their job.
“The spirit of volunteering is vital”
Park Byeong-Ho, premium commentator
Thank you for making time to be interviewed by us.
Glad to meet you. It’s my pleasure.
What brought you to get involved in the premium commentary service?
I started working as a Seoul City cultural commentator in 2008 after my retirement from a multinational corporation. After much thought about what to do after retirement, I completed a Korean leadership program and started working as a volunteer at the Seong-dong Foreign Workers Center. I then learned about the premium tourism commentary service and received training to become a premium commentator. This is now my 8th year of serving as a premium commentator.
In your opinion, what are the most important qualifications to becoming a premium commentator?
I would say a commitment to volunteering, which is first and foremost important because you do not make money by working as a volunteer. Personally, I consider myself an ambassador who promotes Korean culture, tradition, and history with a sense of responsibility. Also, a good command of a foreign language is important. Since I served as an interpreter in my earlier career, I’m fluent in English, but I’ve made a great effort to learn culture-related terms in other languages. Another important qualification is accurate knowledge of history and the capacity to transmit your knowledge accurately and objectively. I still study consistently to enhance my competence as a premium commentator.
What sets premium commentators apart from others?
We are professional and qualified commentators. In my opinion, premium commentators are competent enough to provide a quality commentary service to international VIPs who visit Seoul. I personally feel grateful for the opportunity to contribute to my country as a member of society even after retirement.
Is there anything that you emphasize while working as a premium commentator?
I always have a sense of gratitude toward visitors to Korea. Over 20 nations from all around the world helped us during the Korean War. So I always express my appreciation to tourists from those nations as I offer the premium commentary service to them. Also, I always stress to them that Korea was once one of the poorest nations right after the Korean War but we have made great strides over the past 60 years and our capacity to do so is derived from our 5,000 years of Korean history.
Do you have any memorable visitors?
I once had MICE reporters from various nations in my group. When they go back to their own countries, they write articles about what they felt about Seoul and publish them, which, I’m told, have a great impact on promoting Korea. In this respect, I’m a commentator as well as a Seoul ambassador.
Is there anything that you hope for in the future?
I hope there is support for the peerless, professional, and effective commentary service. For instance, I hope we can use a two-way radio in the places where we’re not allowed to use microphones, such as Bukchon. Also, I hope there are training programs or mobile devices such as tablet PCs, for us to sharpen our professionalism as premium commentators.
“Seoul as a place to visit again”
Gwon Jeong-Suk, a premium commentator at the National Folk Museum
What motivated you to become a premium commentator?
About ten years ago, I had a chance to visit a royal palace with soldiers from the U.S. Forces in Korea and their families while I was working as a volunteer at a local district community center. At the Huwon Garden in Changdeokgung Palace, I told them about Korean history and the fire that happened in the palace during the Japanese colonial period. Then an American soldier jokingly said, “Do you want us to exact revenge for you?” while looking at Japanese tourists, which surprised me a great deal. That incident reminded me that conveying our history accurately and in relatable terms was important which prompted me to complete the 100-hour English Cultural Commentator Training Program and the 40-hour intensive training run by the Ministry of the Gender Equality & Family to become an official commentator. It is now my 7th year of serving as a cultural commentator at the National Folk Museum.
Do you have any memorable customers?
There is an incident that instilled in me a great sense of pride as a commentator. I once was introducing Korean culture and history to a British family who was visiting Seoul en route to Britain. As the family had young children I told them interesting stories and anecdotes based on Korean history and culture to amuse them and their parents expressed deep gratitude. I bumped into them again the next day at a different location and had a chance to share more about the Korean cultural heritage. Later, the family sent me a mail, saying that they had a great impression on Korea and would like to tour around Korea for a longer period of time. As a commentator, I would like to make Seoul a place visitors will want to return again to.
Would you like to share with us any interesting incident related to your experience as a premium commentator?
I’ve met VIPs and special guests from all over the world at the invitation of Seoul City and the Seoul Tourism Organization. In general, I don’t know who my customers are unless they tell me who they are, but I tend to find out later that they are extraordinary people, such as ministers of foreign nations, world-famous pianists, staffers with the Vatican City, and so forth. Participants of the Conde Nast International Luxury Conference- held in May and sponsored by the Seoul Tourism Organization- were also memorable people for me. They showed particular interest in colors and hanbok; I later found out that they were world-famous fashion-related experts.
In your opinion, what are the most important qualifications to become a premium commentator?
I spend a lot time studying because I think premium commentators should be qualified experts. Above all, they should be able to deliver accurate information to their customers and answer any questions properly. There are many things that are quite natural to us but quite enigmatic and unfamiliar to international visitors. At first, I didn’t know what to do and had a hard time answering perplexing questions but now I’m experienced enough to answer most questions while guiding and commenting on Korean culture. Objectivity is the most important in delivering commentaries on Korean culture. As you know, Korea has undergone a series of tragedies and hardships, but I do my best to tell historical truths as objectively as possible.
Foreigners regard objectivity as extremely important. They don’t understand when I simply tell them, “This is an important element to Korean people,” when explaining something to them. They want to know exactly why that something is important to Koreans and what it means to Koreans. When explaining why the “umbilical cord jar” is important to Koreans, for instance, I stress how Korean people were wise enough to keep their babies’ umbilical cords in the jar since ancient times, similarly to parents nowadays who bank their children’s umbilical cord blood.
What are the strengths you have as a premium commentator?
I would like to single out my friendliness. I try to deliver commentaries and encourage participants to ask questions. I try to answer their questions and solve problems they might have with open-mindedness and expertise because everything I say or every move I make could affect the image of Korea. Ultimately, I would like to make Seoul a place to visit again and again.