The idea of the project was raised in 2007 by a group of foreigners living in Korea. All of them were interested in Korean Buddhism as a way of achieving personal development and they wanted to learn more about famous Korea Buddhist monk Wonhyo who lived in Korea in the 7th century. Hence they started to do research on the journey taken by Wonhyo from Korea to China in order to learn more about this most beloved and unconventional character (Wonhyo was known for dancing and singing around the country, encouraging people to chant and recite the Buddha’s name).
Few people are aware of the exact route that Wonhyo took and no one had the idea to establish an official pilgrimage trail until now. Hence we’ve decided to design a pilgrimage trail that would follow in the footsteps of Wonhyo in order to offer Koreans and foreign visitors to Korea, an opportunity to get inspired by this journey and to discover the beauty of Korean landscapes, while visiting Buddhist temples and hiking in the mountains.
As English-speaking foreigners, they also thought that this pilgrimage experience could be promoted through some writings from pilgrims, similar to the Canterbury Tales written during the 14th century by British writer Geoffrey Chaucer. These tales tell a story of a group of Christian pilgrims who met in a tavern before their journey from London to Canterbury and decide to amuse each other on the pilgrimage by telling each other stories.
Finally they thought that Korea could be a leading player in the worldwide trend for pilgrimage and spiritual tourism.
The world is actually experiencing a surge in pilgrimages in all major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. When best-selling Brazilian author Paulo Coelho took the famous “Camino de Santiago” pilgrimage in 1986 about 450 others took the trip that year.
An estimated 114,026 pilgrims flocked along the ancient religious road from the French/Spanish border to Santiago in 2007. Other religions are experiencing similar numbers of spiritually motivated pilgrims who seek answers to life’s questions by spending days, weeks or months walking to sites that are sacred and meaningful to them.
On the other hand, spiritual and wellness tourism is an emerging market globally. Similarly there is a world trend to seek to grow as an individual, to be healthier, to experience freedom and to reconnect with family. Many of us want to understand our life purpose, to gain new insights, learn practices for heightening self-awareness and spiritual development, exchange ideas, or explore ancient sacred sites.
Sacred sites continue to be the most visited locations on planet. Visits to these sacred places have the power to heal the body, enlighten the mind, increase creativity, develop psychic abilities, and awaken the soul to a knowing of its true purpose in life.
As far as domestic tourism is concerned, Koreans have a great love of their mountains and many spend their free time hiking the mountains for fresh air, exercise and the spiritual uplifting of being in nature.
However, traditionally, unlike Europeans, Koreans have not hiked to spiritual sites. Despite the many hiking trails crisscrossing the country and thousands of ancient and beautiful Buddhist temples in the countryside, there are no well-known walking pilgrimages in Korea.
The overall objective of this “In the Footsteps of Wonhyo” project is to build and operate a genuine and modern pilgrimage offering in Korea as a flagship tourism offer, raising a new interest in the country and its involvement in the worldwide pilgrimage trend.
This offering will start with the Wonhyo Trail and would include standard and customized trails for personal / spiritual development, health and wellness strengthening, life & death experience, etc. It will be built in coherence with the existing national strategy of tourism development, including the Han style approach.
On a larger scale, this project also aims to help reverse Korea’s tourism deficit problem which hit a record high of US$10.1 billion in 2007. Data from the Korea Tourism Organization shows Korean travelers overseas spent about $15.8 billion, while foreign visitors here spent a total of $5.7 billion.
Moreover, overseas expenditure by Koreans increased 18 percent as of late last year while the gain in Korean tourism decreased by 0.2 percent.
Regarding tourism in Korea, the objectives of the project are therefore the following:
- To attract visitors from existing and new markets, in Korea and abroad,
- To generate longer stays in Korea since the pilgrimage trails would last at least 15 days,
- To increase the expenditure of each visitor by offering a range of side activities,
- To extend the tourism season since the trails would be designed to match all seasons,
- To attract niche / special interest tourists, pilgrimage travelers being motivated by different needs and expectations.
These objectives will be reached through the implementation of a number of specific concepts:
- Widening the range of tourist experience “things to do and see”,
- Creating new “reasons to visit” which will appeal to markets,
- Interpreting and presenting the natural and manmade heritage of the area and
- Providing a range of market acceptable guest accommodation.
A variety of themes are in development, and will be further developed in cooperation with those organizations representing various sectors of Korea, such as the Choggye Order of Buddhism, The Korean Anglican Church, the Seoul International Hikers Club and Korean Mountaineering League, etc., in conjunction with funding sources.
The main purpose to initiate the project in Korea is to focus on models that are already working and functioning successfully in other countries, such as Shikoku’s 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Japan, and The Camino de Santiago (“The Road to Santiago”) in Spain. Over a hundred thousand pilgrims walk the sites annually, making them a unique and popular tourist attraction. There is great hope that the same could happen here in Korea.
Finally, the outcomes of the projects are the following:
- To encourage spiritual development and peace of mind for everybody by establishing and promoting a pilgrimage route to honor Wonhyo,
- To spread knowledge of Wonhyos’s teaching through newspaper articles, radio and TV stories and interviews;
- To produce Korean version of the Canterbury Tales, adapted to our era;
- To introduce to Korea the idea of walking pilgrimages in which the pilgrims learn about themselves through the journey itself;
- To design a methodology to design a trail package in Korea as a flag tourism offer of Korea;
- To create a worldwide network of pilgrimage trails led by Korea, as a spiritual center.