Pyeongchang still waiting for Olympic achievements

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang ended four years ago, but when driving a taxi, Jeon Jae-gu sometimes wears a ski outfit bearing the region’s Olympic emblems, along with a hat suitable for the Pyeongchang Olympics.

His trunk is crammed with leftover knick-knacks he often gives to passengers – lanyards, gloves, tote bags and figurines, all celebrating 16 days when the county was rural This place, one of the poorest places in Korea, is the center of the global sports world.

“I believe the Olympics have given us a chance to have a new image,” said Mr. Jeon. “I heard that its harmonic effect will take 10 years to develop. Slowly, slowly, slowly, time will pass.”

But not all residents in the area share his optimism, or patience.

Across the hills of Pyeongchang, reminders of the 2018 Winter Olympics are everywhere: on banners praising the “Peace Olympics” with North Korea; in the scattered statues of Olympic mascots, in the English menus on the doors of empty restaurants that used to expect a flood of foreign guests.

One of the biggest vestiges of the Olympics has begun to look like a modern ruin. The site of the 35,000-seat Olympic stadium has become a hazy lawn in the shape of an amphitheater, with the towering stadium torch remaining like a skeleton. A nearby museum holds what remains, its display cases filled with commemorative pins, coins and clothing.

Many see the remains of these Olympics as a sign of past glory – and of unfulfilled promises.

The 2018 Winter Olympics were sold to the people of Pyeongchang as an opportunity to develop global tourism that would change the struggling region.

South Korea has spent at least $13 billion on the Olympics, with some experts predicting a return on this investment of $58 billion within 10 years. Local news outlets speculate that the Olympics could help Gangwon Province “emerge as one of the major winter tourist attractions in the world.”

However, on a recent visit to Pyeongchang, the gap between that vision and current reality seemed huge, with Covid-related travel restrictions worsening what was already a fuzzy start. pale to the county’s post-Olympic life.

The town around Jinbu Station, built to shuttle spectators from Seoul to the Olympics, is eerily quiet as South Korea faces its second year of a pandemic and as the Beijing Olympics prevail. on titles.

Dozens of new cafes and restaurants cluster around Jinbu’s main street, most of which are empty. Banners advertise new real estate projects, but shop owners are fed up with rising land prices and few buyers.

“Nothing here has really changed – just some new roads and buildings,” said Shim Dal-seop, who helps run a family rice wine business. “In this town, there’s no point in hosting the Winter Olympics.”

So far, the outcome of the Pyeongchang Olympics is “unfavorable,” according to Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College who has studied the long-term financial and environmental impacts of the hosting. Olympic. Nor did he expect it to get any better.

he said. But “if you look at the tourism numbers, you don’t see an upward sign in the years around the Olympics” for most of the host countries.

Pyeongchang had modest tourism ahead of the Olympics, and pre-Olympic attractions still draw visitors this month, even as South Korea grapples with an increase in Covid cases is the result of the Omicron variation.

A 22-minute drive from Jinbu, dozens of couples celebrated Valentine’s Day by walking the undulating hills of Daegwallyeong Sheep Farm, has long been one of Pyeongchang’s most popular tourist attractions, even in winter. The children cooed to the sleeping lambs huddled together for warmth. In the distance, visitors can see the Olympic ski slopes covered with artificial snow.

Jeon Hyo-won, whose family opened a farm in 1988, said: “People come here because of the strange scenery.

Despite the cold weather, the farm’s parking lot quickly filled up. Families stop by kiosks to buy stuffed animals and steam rice cakes with potato chips before hiking up the hill to see the sheep, or as Mr. Jeon calls them his “300 children.”

Mr. Jeon’s farm (not related to the taxi driver) may still exist, but his thoughts on the 2018 Olympics are bittersweet.

As a child in Pyeongchang in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he remembered a house without electricity and his mother washing dishes in a stream. Now, he sees the value of all the infrastructure built for the Olympics, including the new bullet train line that gets people from Seoul to Gangwon in less than two hours.

However, Mr. Jeon believes many tourists take the train through Pyeongchang, en route to the east coast, where summer activities like surfing and paragliding reign.

He said he did not notice an increase in tourists during or after the Winter Olympics, despite his efforts to welcome them with English and Chinese interpreters.

“The reality is very different from what was promised to us,” he said. “Back then, the locals here expected the Olympics to affect us a lot.”

At Alpensia Pyeongchang Resort, skiers and snowboarders glide down the mountains where athletes do their medal runs, enjoying the vast complex built before Korea host the Olympics.

“The amount of people looks pretty much the same as before the Olympics, but at least the infrastructure,” said Marie Boes, a freestyle ski instructor from Belgium who has frequented the slopes of Pyeongchang for many years. floors have been improved.

In the year after the Olympics, Pyeongchang experienced a spike of 22 percent in visitors, according to Korean news organizations. But foreigners accounted for less than 0.1% of the 6.1 million people who visited the region’s paid tourist attractions in 2019, a Pyeongchang county government report said.

Even before the Olympics began, South Korean officials had expressed concern about the cost of maintaining the huge venues under construction. Some even came up with the idea of ​​turning the Olympic ice rink into a seafood freezer after the Olympics.

crown jewel of the event, 100 million dollars The Olympic Stadium, was demolished to avoid high maintenance costs and decay.

“For me, it is a monument to waste,” Mr. Zimbalist said.

In Gangneung, a small city that hosted the Winter Olympics ice sports competitions, an ice rink built for the Games was closed. And near the new high-speed train station, a boutique hotel that once hosted Finnish athletes sits on a deserted street lined with bars and guesthouses.

Four years ago, Jeong Eui-won, owner of Beauty Hotel, overhauled his business model to cater to foreign guests: He concocted a European buffet menu, installed Western-style beds and Hire a receptionist who can speak many languages.

“During the time of the Olympics, I had high expectations. It feels like a very new world is opening up,” said. “But the atmosphere has changed a lot in the six months after the Olympics. The number of foreign tourists is gradually decreasing”.

“It was as if the excitement in this city had been buried,” added Mr. Jeong. “The Olympics are being forgotten.”

However, Mr. Jeon, the taxi driver, is grateful that the Winter Olympics are here.

“It was the most amazing event of my life,” he said. “Wherever I go, I will continue to wear these clothes. I will wear them for the next 10 years.” Pyeongchang still waiting for Olympic achievements

Fry Electronics Team

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