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(Yonhap Interview) County chief wants to make fishing festival an extended-stay event

All News 15:09 January 13, 2017

HWACHEON, South Korea, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- Choi Moon-soon, head of the Hwacheon County and top organizer of the 2017 Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, said Friday that this year will be the starting point in making the annual event one in which visitors stay for more than a day.

In an interview on the eve of the festival's opening, Choi said the organizers expanded nighttime activities this year so that visitors can take happy memories with them during their overnight stays in Hwacheon.

The following are excerpts from the interview.

Hwacheon County chief Choi Moon-soon (file photo)

Q: How would you introduce the festival?

A: The festival opens on Saturday and continues for 23 days until Feb. 5. It is indisputably the best winter festival in the country. It is one of the top winter festivals together with Japan's Sapporo Snow Festival, China's Ice and Snow World, and Canada's Winter Festival. It has been named one of CNN's seven wonders of winter. It set a record as an event that brought more than 1 million foreign visitors every year for the past 10 years. The festival theme is sancheoneo, referred to as the "queen of the valley," that lives only in high-quality waters. Ice fishing and bare-hand fishing, indoor ice sculptures and the 27,000 sancheoneo lanterns together with some 70 kinds of leisure sports in the offering will make the festival a luxury department store of wintertime leisure and culture.

Q: What are the special characteristics this year?

A: We tried a transformation to a festival enjoyable at nighttime. We are giving free nighttime fishing tickets to overnight stayers. Street festivals, street dances, eatery tours, figure skating, the world's largest indoor ice carving display and other content will enliven the night. Another important theme is Santa Claus. Santa Claus conjures up hope, love and happiness. The Hwacheon County struck an agreement with Finland in October to open a Santa post office in the county. All letters in the country simply addressed "To Santa" will be delivered to the post office in the county. More than 1,000 letters have already arrived. A Santa from Finland will stay in Hwacheon until Sunday and meet with children.

(Yonhap Interview) County chief wants to make fishing festival an extended-stay event - 2

Q: The weather has been unusually warm so far. Did that pose problems?

A: We delayed the festival opening by a week for safety reasons. Our divers tested the waters every day, which led to the decision for a delay in consideration of tourists' safety. Fortunately, the temperature has dropped this week. We have also made every effort to have more frozen ice. Our spillways played an important role. How to keep the water flow steady is important knowledge in ice freezing, and our experience over the last 10 years has helped. Strong winds common in the county and short daylight hours also helped.

Q: What is the strategy for competing with other winter festivals?

A: Our festival is known as one of the world's top four winter festivals. It does not match their scale, but we have an upper hand in terms of diversity and events where you get hands-on experience. One can see refined snow sculptures in Sapporo but cannot experience night fishing. At the Canada festival, one can enjoy street festivals but won't be able to see monumental ice sculptures. At the China event, one can see giant ice structures but cannot enjoy ice fishing or bare-hand fishing because of the freezing cold. Our festival is like a full winter gift set that offers all. The advantage of the sancheoneo festival is that it's Hwacheon style.

Q: What does the county expect from the festival?

A: Because of its proximity to the inter-Korean border, there are more soldiers in the county than the 27,000 residents. The economy has fallen behind because the county is under various restrictions from the hosted military facilities. But everything changed with the start of the sancheoneo festival in 2003. More than 1 million tourists have been coming to Hwacheon for the past 10 years during winter. Now, the festival has to grow as an event that boosts the local economy rather than simply seeking to expand its size. That is why we increased the nighttime activities to increase tourists' spending. The economic effect from the festival last year reached 99 billion won (US$83.7 million). We hope to make that over 100 billion won. The festival creates more than 2,000 jobs a year. We hope to keep making more good quality jobs.
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