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EXCLUSIVE: High hopes in South Korea as boat show opens

GYEONGGI PROVINCE, South Korea - With great flourish and pageantry, the third Korea International Boat Show opened today, and organizers said they are well on their way toward the goal of making Gyeonggi Province and South Korea an emerging leader in the global marine leisure market.

The two-hour opening ceremony featured martial artists, singers, the navy band and the navy presidential honor guard drill team, which demonstrated its skills to the Village People song "In the Navy" as part of its performance. Videos showing highlights of the previous two shows were played to applause from the 500 or so people who attended the opening event.

With a theme of "New Horizons on the Yellow Sea," the show opened with speeches by several government officials and served as the start of the Korea Match Cup, Stage 3 of the 2010 ISAF World Match Racing Tour. Fireworks were shot into blue skies at the end of the festivities.

Marine infrastructure and the boating industry are a relatively new push for the provincial and central governments of South Korea. However, ambitious plans are already in place, as more than 40 marinas have been developed around the country, including four large-scale facilities in the Gyeonggi Province. A first-of-its kind marine industrial park is set to open in 2012 and efforts are being made to introduce Gyeonggi's more than 11 million residents to the boating lifestyle.

Kim Moon-soo, governor of Gyeonggi Province, said through a translator that it was a good thing he won the recent election and will be in office for the next four years, as his opposition said the show was a waste of money.

"I told them come and see and criticize," he said. "I have a strong belief whoever comes to our boat show is amazed." He predicted this year's event would be a "huge success."

Last year, more than 237,000 people attended the show, which also includes a marine festival featuring activities for all ages, as well as the regatta. The Korea show, however, is not predominantly a boat-buying event.

A delegation from Japan pointed out that at its own show, exhibitors generally do half of their annual business.

Kim Moon-soo said he is open to ideas to help make the Korea show a success, but also pointed out, "We are at the starting point."

The governor also said that the recent flare-up of tensions between South Korea and North Korea should not affect plans to promote boating or develop infrastructure, and should not keep foreign companies from doing business in South Korea or his province.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, he noted, and the country has faced a threat from the North since the conflict ended in 1953. "But we have still developed and are still flourishing," he said.

His province, he said, is a perfect place for boatbuilders looking to establish a manufacturing base in Asia. It offers highly skilled labor, he said, along with low-cost manufacturing and a stable economy.

"We are ready," Kim Moon-soo said. "We are very competitive with the technological edge."

The show runs through Sunday, with a full conference schedule set for Thursday.

Editor's note: Trade Only's Beth Rosenberg will be reporting from the Korea International Boat Show for the rest of the week, with daily dispatches in the newsletter.

— Beth Rosenberg


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