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The Jeju Olle Trail is home to many local small businesses in Jeju. Sunil and Jeongchul are small business owners who moved to Jeju with their families in 2015 and 2021 respectively. Sunil works at Murung Farm, an agricultural-cooperative and Jeongchul runs F&M Vintage Cafe, located on Route 12 and 4 of the Olle Trail. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and severely affected the tourism industry in Jeju until early 2022, both shared anxiety of how they could keep their business running. Sunil was worried if he could generate sustainable sales with a small and limited brand, and Jeongchul too was identifying ways to promote his cafe and draw more customers. Similar concerns were also raised by other small business owners who engaged with the Jeju Olle Foundation.
As one of the main tourist destinations in South Korea, Jeju relies heavily on tourism and COVID-19 restrictions significantly limited the activities of the small local businesses. In response to this situation and to help many small business owners to recover post-pandemic, Jeju Olle Foundation organised a series of digital innovation classes and lessons, with participants like Sunil, Jeongchul, and many others . Through these lessons, both Sunil and Jeonchul realised how important it is for small business owners to develop skills and work with digital technologies in order to proactively respond to upcoming changes in their business environment. Although Sunil and Jeongchul came to connect with the Jeju Olle Foundation through different paths, they both hope with the same heart that Olle Trail tourists, local residents, and small business owners can connect to become a community that shares large and small joys together.
As an active participant of the classes and lessons Sunil extensively shared about his business operations and experience with other participants. Reflecting on his experience, he says, “The most memorable part was the strong sense of empathy and camaraderie that I felt with my fellow small business owners, and over time, these classes became a gathering place for us to share common struggles. I realised that each of our difficulties was not only our own but an issue we needed to consider as one, and it was a time of solidarity for us to solve this problem together.”
Meanwhile, Jeongchul attended the online lessons through the Olle Pass mobile app. He expects to attend the upcoming in-person lessons in the second half of 2023. Jeongchul said, “As an Olle Trailer (someone who walks the Olle Trail) myself, it’s heartening to see more and more visitors and customers coming in after seeing us on Olle Pass. I am not very good at utilising social media platforms for digital marketing yet, and it’s not easy to leave the store to attend training while running my cafe. Aware of my situation, a person from Jeju Olle Foundation personally came to my store and gave me business consultation. Whenever I have time, I watch and learn from the online digital marketing education content produced by them. Using the content as reference, I am trying my hand at making shorts and short form content so that I can easily promote my store on social media. I also want to develop more menu items that Olle Trailers would like.” Hopeful for the future, Jeongchul further adds, “The Olle Trail holds different meanings and carries fond memories for each Olle Trailer, myself included. If Olle Trailers and small businesses on the Olle Trail can grow closer together, wouldn’t the Olle Trail become something so serene?”
The Impact of COVID-19 on Jeju Olle’s Small Businesses
Jeju island is a world-renowned destination, with about 600,000 people visiting the Olle Trail and its 27 distinct walking trails each year, local residents and tourists alike. People from outside of Jeju can feel its beauty as they walk the Trail and always come back to visit again. However, the number of visitors is heavily influenced by external conditions, and during COVID-19, when outdoor activities were restricted, the number of tourists decreased drastically, with tourism income down by nearly half.
The numerous small businesses on the Olle Trail, ranging from restaurants, cafes, accommodations, and bookstores were relying on tourism to gain income. Most of these small businesses are run by owners in their 50s or older and with little experience with digital devices. Even if they know how to use digital devices, it can be difficult to find the right educational resources to help with store operations. This is because there is no one institution that completely understands the operating models of small-sized brands and the regional characteristics of Jeju, especially the Olle Trail.
Reflecting on Delivering Digital Content: Listening to the Voices from the Ground
The Jeju Olle Foundation is a non-profit organisation, since 2007 it has been creating, maintaining and operating the Jeju Olle Trails (Olle Trails) where visitors can travel around Jeju on foot. With Olle Trail at the heart of their work, they gather various stakeholders, including local residents, volunteers, and sponsor members, and create content and programmes to utilise the trail in an engaging manner. The Jeju Olle Foundation has a wide range of work surrounding the Olle Trail, from managing the Olle Trail, working with local stakeholders, supporting the small business owners who operate restaurants, cafes, accommodations, and bookstores, and so forth.
As time passed, the need to create an online platform to gather information regarding the Olle Trail became increasingly apparent. Tourists visiting the Olle Trail have to labouriously scour the internet to find scattered information about the stores, programmes, and events they were interested in. To address this, the Jeju Olle Foundation launched the Olle Pass app in 2022, enabling users to view, understand, and explore the Olle Trail and get information about small business owners in one convenient online platform. Alongside the main app, the Olle Pay payment service was also launched, for partnering small businesses to seamlessly process transactions at their stores.
Through the AVPN Digital Transformation Fund, training was conducted for small business owners to utilise the app. Depending on their digital proficiency, those who were unfamiliar with digital devices were further given individualised support. The training initially started as in-person group lessons at a specified location. However, the in-person participation rates were not high, which led the programme team to question their approach, and effectiveness of the intervention.
Thankfully, conversations and feedback from some participants revealed the answer. For these small business owners, many faced logistical and operational difficulties of leaving their stores, travelling long distances, and adapting to new ways of conducting business. Responding to this, the Jeju Olle Foundation increased the number of one-on-one on-site consultations to reach as many businesses as possible. The feedback and voices from the field served as an important channel for the programme team to learn what went wrong, what could be improved, and increase the participation rates while also providing practical advice to small business owners.
From this, the number of tourists visiting the partner’s businesses after viewing them on ‘Olle Pass’ has been steadily increasing. On top of increased sales, positive experiences are accumulating as small business owners and tourists are able to meet and communicate with each other. The Jeju Olle Foundation plans to continue developing both ‘Olle Pass’ and ‘Olle Pay’ experience, and continue their digital innovation training for the rest of 2023. Furthermore, they are looking for innovative ways to showcase these small businesses, and create a space for active co-prosperity where they can experiment with new models and approaches.
Younghee Seo, the project team leader at Jeju Olle Foundation, shares, “We have worked with about 150 Olle stores, through offline lessons, online video lessons, and one-on-one training visits. The flexible nature by which we could utilise the funding was pivotal for us to expand our thinking and dream big. We were even able to use professional equipment to develop our training videos, and actively push joint promotions that helped businesses improve their sales substantially.”
Non-profits Organisations (NPOs) like Jeju Olle Foundation are at the forefront of social innovation, taking on a variety of challenges to pioneer a path with no fixed answer. However, this is often fraught with operational challenges and financial difficulties, and not many types of philanthropic funding allow NPOs to innovate and take such risks. The provision of funding that could be used flexibly, providing a strong mental safety net to enable grantees to implement their ideal vision. For Jeju Olle Foundation, these two factors played a big role in the planning, implementation, and success of their project.
 Olle Pass is The official Olle Trail app that provides comprehensive information of course guidance, nearby restaurants, cafes, and accommodations, and allows users to receive a course completion certification through its mobile passport function. ‘Murung Farm’ and ‘F&M Vintage Cafe’ are affiliated stores of the digital platform ‘Olle Pass’ operated by the Jeju Olle Foundation.