Korea trying to get pavillion space at EPCOT

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The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the country of Korea is attempting to secure a pavillion in EPCOT at WDW. It is a very interesting article that discusses the responsibilities of the host countries, and which countries Disney has an eye on for the future. Those who voted for Switzerland, Russia and Australia in the previous poll ( http://www.disneycentral.com/forum/showthread.php?&threadid=80 ) will be happy! .

Dream of Korea pavilion meets with cool reception from Epcot

By Robert Johnson

Korean legislator and an Orlando businessman who hails from that nation are pressing for a new pavilion at Walt Disney World’s Epcot World Showcase.

“To not see Korea represented at Epcot World Showcase leaves an empty place in my heart,” said Y.K. Kim, owner of the Orlando-based Martial Arts World chain.

But breaking blocks barehanded may be easier than making Kim’s dream come true. Walt Disney World hasn’t built a new pavilion at World Showcase since Norway in 1988, and an attraction official was blunt in dismissing interest in a Korean exhibit.

“There are no plans to add a Korean pavilion,” Disney spokesman Bill Warren said. “There is no constructive point to having discussions about that.”

Still, Disney officials, who get several inquiries a year from countries about adding pavilions, led Kim and a contingent of visiting Korean leaders on a tour of Epcot last week.

Despite the rebuff, Kim is trying to play the role of matchmaker, bringing together an influential South Korean congressman and Walt Disney World officials.

Byoung Gug Choung, the Korean congressman – who is also a member of his country’s Culture and Tourism Committee – visited Orlando last week. Accompanied by a small entourage, Choung dined and made small talk with Mayor Glenda Hood before visiting Epcot.

“I see opportunity for Korea and for Disney,” Choung said.

He envisions a palace-style building reminiscent of Korea’s past royal dynasties that offers such traditional entertainment as elaborate fan dancing and martial arts demonstrations.

But some tourism industry veterans see little chance for Korea winning a place at Epcot.

“From Disney’s standpoint, very few countries who aren’t represented there already would have any impact on attendance,” said Steve Baker, a former Epcot executive who arranged for the original eight pavilions at World Showcase.

Baker reasoned that Korea “just wouldn’t bring in enough more visitors to justify it.”

The existing pavilions feature cultural displays, restaurants, stores, rides and other entertainment. The original eight from 1982 represent tourism biggies: Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

Two smaller nations, the exotic Morocco and tourism-conscious Norway, came in 1984 and 1988, respectively.

All those pavilions share at least one financial characteristic, Baker said: “Disney didn’t pay to build them.”

Building a pavilion when Disney gives permission is at least a $50 million project, said Baker, who is now president of Baker Leisure Group, an Orlando-based entertainment consulting firm.

Then there are the 50 or so employees, all to be paid by the host nation or a representative group that foots the pavilion’s bills. The pavilions’ costs are usually shared by international corporations, industry trade groups and other private contributors, Baker said.

The pavilions’ operators also pay rent to Disney, as well as a share of the merchandising proceeds.

Choung said those financial requirements “would not be a problem” for Korean backers.

But being able to foot the bills and generate souvenir sales aren’t enough to get a spot in World Showcase. Baker said Disney World wants nations it thinks will attract about half of Epcot’s estimated 11 million guests a year.Disney officials wouldn’t discuss either the attendance or cost figures described by Baker.

Among the possible additions to World Showcase in which Disney has expressed past interest are Russia and Switzerland. But talks with parties in both those countries collapsed in the early '90s.

Economic and political chaos killed the Russian pavilion, and the Switzerland idea didn’t clear financial hurdles. Other discussions with Australian businesses haven’t been successful either, Baker said.

Korea just doesn’t have the tourism cache of those other candidates, Baker said. And he said a Korean exhibit would be too similar to those of its regional neighbors at Epcot.

But the visiting Choung disagreed.

“We Koreans have better food than China and Japan – and superior martial arts,” he said.