Be inspired

It’s hardly breaking news, but back in 2010, South Korea changed its tourism slogan to “Be inspired.”

Back when I first went to Korea, in 2001, the tourism slogan was “Dynamic Korea,” created by Kim Dae Jung’s administration. The idea seems to have been to represent the South Korean economy primarily, marking Korea as a modern nation capable of hosting major events and serving as a corporate hub. The trouble with the slogan is that it doesn’t mean very much to an actual tourist.

The replacement campaign, “Korea Sparkling,” was a hasty mess. It meant even less than “Dynamic Korea,” though it appeared to emphasize Korea’s shiny new buildings and economy. Unfortunately, that focus gave short shrift to much of what is best about Korea: its earthy vitality, its sour and pungent cuisine, its bloody cinematic thrillers, its forested mountains jutting up out of the big cities. It overlooked Korea’s dynamism, ironically enough. “Sparkling” could just as well describe Singapore or Dubai.

The “Be inspired” slogan moves in another direction entirely. First of all, it’s something of a step for Korea to feel that it can go beyond describing itself and venture to tell you how to feel. That in itself is a kind of confidence that wasn’t there before. But it’s also a shift from economy to culture. “Dynamic” is where you hold regional trade shows and build ships. “Sparkling” is where you open an office on the 35th floor and go shopping for international luxury goods. But inspiration comes from genuine experiences: delicious meals, pop stars you adore, good friends, mountain Buddhist retreats, the Boryeong Mud Festival.

For the first time in the modern era, Korea appears to be confident that it has something unique to offer the world, something worthwhile. South Korea has developed personality.