According to the Korea Tourism Organization, many of the complaints they get regard shopping and taxi fares:
A recent survey conducted by the Korea Tourism Organization shows that the number of calls made by disgruntled tourists in 2009 saw a 13.4 percent increase from the previous year.
Of the complaints, difficulties while shopping and disputing costs of taxi fares topped the list with 32.5 percent and 17.5 percent of the total 468 complaints filed.
“Our experience was pleasant up until we walked out of the key attractions around the city,” Watanabe said. “It was when we hopped into a taxi and began getting around town that our trip became unpleasant. We really feel as though we spent twice the amount of our travel budget, and I hate it. In their defense, the drivers just say they don’t understand what we’re saying, but I find it personally inconvenient. It’s made me disdainful of the drivers here.”
One Seoul taxi driver took exception:
When asked about taxi scams, Baek Ki-chun, 62, a taxi driver, was quick to defend his profession.
“That was only during the old days when you saw drivers hanging around the airport looking for people to rip off,” he said. “Nowadays, we don’t do stuff like that to tourists, because we care very much about giving the best impression possible of our country to foreign guests when they visit.”
Baek, a 15-year veteran, conceded later that there might be some who take advantage of tourists. “Look, in countries like Japan, you don’t see drivers committing such shameful acts because their drivers get all the proper employee benefits and a respectable salary, regardless of how many passengers they get per day,” he said.
Miscommunication with drivers is another issue, although fortunately, some Japanese tourists have taken to printing out maps to help smooth things along.
Of course, language is always an issue… and one about which there is apparently some disagreement:
Some Koreans have been saying for years that foreign tourists should be expected to possess a minimum level of Korean. Others ask for better English education in the travel industry here, citing Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East as places where locals communicate with tourists primarily in English, rather than in their own local languages.
“It’s difficult to say whether we are trying too hard to cater and to accommodate foreign tourists and not encouraging them more to try and speak Korean,” said Kang Oki, the Korea Tourism Organization’s executive director of public relations.
“I know that when I travel abroad and I see a leaflet or information booklet with a section translated into Korean, I feel good and feel even welcomed. I believe there’s no harm in that,” she added.
I think phrasebooks are always a good thing to bring along when you travel — trying to communicate is part of the fun, after all, and it’s just common politeness to at least try to communicate with locals in their language — but it seems to me the KTO is in the business of making things easier for tourists (not the business of promoting the Korean language, which is the business of its parent organization, the Ministry of Culture), and that it’s in the best interests of tourism-related industries to have staff that can communicate with their customers.