By Hiromu Namiki / Japan News Staff Writer PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Welcome mats were out in force ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics with residents, shops and restaurants in the city rooting for the Games’ success.
Motoko Miyagi, a Saitama-born Pyeongchang resident who married a South Korean farmer two decades ago, works at tourist information centers in Pyeongchang, rotating among three facilities that help guide visitors. The number of tourists visiting each center has recently increased to as many as about 30 a day, Miyagi said Wednesday.
Miyagi said she was thrilled when she learned in June that the Pyeongchang county office was recruiting people to work at the centers. “I thought my turn had finally come,” she said.
Miyagi, who has been a full-time homemaker, began her job in September after undergoing training, learning such important information as Pyeongchang’s geography, tourist spots and local specialties.
“I want the Olympics to be a symbol of peace, uniting all people. I hope many people will visit here,” Miyagi said.
A shop in central Pyeongchang selling local specialties and Olympic souvenirs has seen a sudden rise in Olympic-related customers, including athletes and officials of national Olympic committees.
“About 80 percent of our customers are now from foreign countries. Our sales are going up,” staff member Kim Sul Rae said on Monday.
Kim, 50, said that although most foreign customers buy Olympic-related souvenirs, she hopes visitors will also purchase local specialties, such as wine made from Pyeongchang-produced grapes and dried pollack.
Many restaurants have prepared menus with English and Japanese translations for foreign customers, and staff are welcoming visitors in English and Japanese.
Hwang Jeong Youl, who runs a barbecue restaurant with his mother, said he has served many officials and others who are in town for the Olympics.
“Ordinarily, we have no foreign visitors at all. Restaurant owners like me are pinning our hopes on the Olympics because it will have a huge impact on our sales,” said Hwang, 35.
Hwang also said the fervent competition between Olympic athletes would help raise Pyeongchang’s popularity.
Rental shops suffer
However, not every establishment has been benefiting from the Olympics. A ski and snowboard rental shop near the Olympic Stadium said its revenue has nosedived, as surging hotel fees have discouraged ordinary skiers and snowboarders from visiting local ski resorts.
An employee said groups of skiers usually visit the shop around this time, but this year is totally different.
“About 30 groups of customers used to visit us per day on weekends, but now we only have a couple of groups,” he said. “There are even days when we have no customers at all.”