1330 - A Lifeline For Newcomers To Seoul... And Oldtimers Too!

by Anne Ladouceur, 05/12/2013

If you can imagine yourself in any of the following situations:
...I’m in a taxi and the driver doesn’t understand where I want to go!
...What’s going on in Seoul this weekend?
...I want to reserve performance tickets but no one speaks English at the ticket order number—the only one that’s given in the ad!
...How do I get where I want to go by bus? By subway?
...I’d like to get to Sorak Mountain for the weekend, how do I get there? Where can I stay?
...I’m looking for something to do over the weekend and would like to travel outside Seoul, where can I go? How do I go about it?
Sound familiar? Then memorize this number 1330.

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1330, the Beginning
The 1330 service was initiated in 1999, by the Korea Tourism Organization (formerly KNTO) as a tool to help attract tourism. Consequently, it was mostly promoted on the KNTO website and thus most foreign residents in Korea were not aware that the service existed. In the beginning, the operators were housed in the KTO building in “downtown” Seoul and they were trained to answer questions dealing primarily with tour packages, accommodations, air or train travel, and other services targeting tourists.

In 2002, with the Soccer World Cup coming to Korea (and Japan), ads featuring 1330 began to appear at the airport, in newspapers and in various other locations. Again, the marketing focused on traveling: “Need Travel Info—call 1330.” Service in the Seoul area was expanded to 24 hours, 7 days a week and operators were available to help callers in Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese and, of course, Korean. For a variety of reasons, the languages available are now limited to Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese.

Who calls 1330?
Given the easy to remember number and the free call, foreign residents gradually began to use 1330 as a source of information; first about touristy things, then for more and more different kinds of needs. The service, now fields over 200 calls a day of which the majority are apparently from residents rather than tourists. While the majority of calls are from English-speakers, the next highest group of callers are Korean speakers.  

The Koreans who use the service are often from outside Seoul or Seoulites looking for travel information on areas away from the capital. Calls made to the 19 local 1330 tourism information centers around the country outside of business hours are forwarded to Seoul’s 24-hour service.

To find out about accommodations, tour packages, festivals, transportation, and so forth, in areas outside of Seoul, all you have to do is dial the area code of the region + 1330, during business hours. If you don’t know the area code and are not sure where to find it, contact the Seoul 1330 line (remember 02-1330 from a cell phone).

The Operators of 1330
Many of the operators have been with the service for a number of years. I had the opportunity to visit the office a while back and to meet some of the operators. The English operators work 2 people to a 12-hour shift, while those taking Chinese and Japanese calls work an extra hour, as there is only one for each language per 13-hour shift.

The staff explained that to become a 1330 operator, applicants not only have to prove that they are proficient in their assigned language, but must also have one to two years experience as a tour guide. Initially, they must obtain a certificate from KTO that is based on a written test that evaluates their knowledge of Korean history, Korean geography and Tourism laws/regulations. Once they’ve passed those tests, they will train for another one to three months before getting on the phones. KTO also sends each one on three or four field trips a year so that their knowledge stays current. Of the current group of eleven operators (3 Chinese, 2 Japanese and 5 English language speakers), many have studied abroad and have been with 1330 for about four years on average. And they have stories, lots of them.

1330 Calls
Both the English and Chinese operators have helped people who were lost on a mountain. In one case, the operator talked the group down (come to find out they were five meters from the exit) and in the other, managed to get enough information to the frightened callers, despite a failing mobile phone battery, that they were able to get to a place where the rangers could see them.

A number of Japanese and Chinese callers want information on where they can meet Korean drama or movie stars or see where the filming took place. Many want to know how to get to restaurants or other businesses owned by their favorites.

Some of the most common calls involve questions about public transit, the location of restaurants and bars, sports schedules and shopping information. People, including Koreans, also use 1330 as a kind of 411 telephone number information service. Interpretation services are frequently requested as well to facilitate communication between a passenger and taxi driver, with ticket reservation sites, with store clerks, with bank tellers, with government officials, and even between employers and employees. Given the types of calls they’ve been getting in recent years, 1330 now has a conference call arrangement with 119 (the emergency number) so that a non-Korean speaker requesting help can have her/his need dealt with properly and without delay. Victims of crimes have also used 1330 as a means of communicating with the police.

As mentioned earlier, 1330 isn’t just for newcomers to Seoul. I contact them regularly for a number of minor reasons and also when I’m facing a crisis. For example, when I woke up on a hot, muggy August morning to discover that my electricity wasn’t working, the 1330 operator found me an English-speaking person at the power company. (Note: There is English-speaking staff in many, if not most, companies. The trick is getting through the unilingual receptionist or operator to get to them since he/she often isn't aware that a particular staff person speaks English).

Communication Hint
Here’s a little hint that should enable you to get the most out of the service: ask specific and detailed questions. Avoid using “or” as in “Do I go right or left when I come out of the subway station?” Instead, try “Do I turn right when I come out of the subway station”; “Do I walk straight first”; ‘How far.” When getting transportation information, they are likely to give you subway directions only, unless you then also ask if there are also buses that would get you there. Be patient, they really do want to help you.

Country-wide Service
In recent years, a number of Korean cities have set up information services to address some of the needs of foreign visitors and residents in their geographic area, KTO's 1330 helpline provides assistance all over the country. No matter where you are in Korea, you can access 1330 and get information. It's not just for a specific city or area.  

If you can't find it on Korea4Expats and you can't wait for an answer to a question posted on our Forum,
1330 may be able to help.

About the author: Anne Ladouceur is the founder of Korea4Expats. A Canadian, she came to Korea in 1997. 

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