PyeongChang Packs Little Pizzazz for Tourists

(ATR) Few entertainment options and even less English may make it tough for PyeongChang to woo visitors. 

(ATR) Few entertainment options and even less English may make it tough for PyeongChang to woo visitors.

Around the Rings recently toured PyeongChang, where no Olympic events will take place despite being the host city for the 2018 Olympics. The PyeongChang Olympics belong to the county of PyeongChang, also the name of a small town in the county.

Getting to PyeongChang itself can be tricky. ATR asked how to do so at the front desk of the Holiday Inn in Alpensia, the main hub of the Games, and they seemed unsure. PyeongChang is a 15-minute drive away.

One staffer suggested a taxi but then realized the driver is unlikely to speak English. Another suggested taking a bus to Gangeung, where the ice events will take place, about 40 minutes by car. From there you would have to transfer to another bus, they told ATR. Both employees said that trip would take hours. Google Maps agreed, offering an estimated 16-hour travel time.

Even staffers of PyeongChang 2018 couldn’t say how to get from the Alpensia Resort, where POCOG’s headquarters are located, to the town of PyeongChang. That could be explained by the fact that many POCOG staff are stationed in Seoul, while only operational staff work in the Alpensia office.

The drive into town takes visitors along bucolic, pastoral lands with potato and cabbage farms nestled among bubbling streams, offering a picture of a more rural South Korea.

Once in PyeongChang, there are virtually no tourist sites in the city. A five-minute drive completes the tour of the town.

A street sign offered three potential tourist destinations: the Neung Kyoong Mountain, the Daegwallyeong Museum (dedicated to the mountain pass of the same name) and the didactically-named Sheep Farm.

Of the few restaurants in PyeongChang, Hanwoo Town ("Beef Town" in English) is considered the best. The restaurant specializes in Korean barbecue with locally-sourced beef. Other popular spots specialize in different preparations of hwang tae. A PyeongChang specialty, hwang tae is pollack, air-dried during the winter.

PyeongChang pays homage to its Olympic heritage in several ways. The biggest café proudly serves coffee from Lavazza, a company based in Turin. The main street is called "Olympic-ro" - Olympic Road.

Most of the stores in PyeongChang specialize in Korean goods. They are in need of repair. However, they do present ripe opportunities for renovation for hospitality sites—a huge need for the legion of corporate sponsors for an Olympics.

ATR understands that to make PyeongChang more enticing during the Games, the city will organize a street fair.

Sliding and Nordic events will take place at the Alpensia ski resort and are the closest to PyeongChang.

Operated by the InterContinental Hotels Group, the resort itself is often dull.

A Holiday Inn complex and an Intercontinental Hotel are the stars of the resort. Around a dozen non-descript restaurants offer a variety of Korean and Japanese fare, along a Lotteria fast food restaurant and a Domino’s Pizza. Nightlife options are limited to a karaoke bar, a pool bar, and in winter a temporary structure is erected for a third bar. A water park and a concert hall are the remaining diversions.

Foreigners, who work on the 2018 project and have had to spend extended periods of time in Alepnsia, confided to ATR that the area, isolated from any other parts of the county, is boring. On weekends this is exacerbated, they say. Intended to be an attractive international holiday spot, most signs are only in Korean and outside of hotel staff, English skills are very limited.

The resort is reportedly a money loser. Its current financial status is unclear. Some reports say the facility is losing more than $50 million a year.

Perhaps indicative of why Alpensia finds itself in dire financial straits: during the recent 2018 debriefing, around 450 people attended the event. There were few other guests at the resort during what is peak holiday season in South Korea.

Written by Ed Hula III

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