While Jeju Island is loved by many for its appeal as a tourist destination, the province has also incurred sizable damage for years from much of its areas overhauled for new hotels, resorts and attractions.
Even though the island invites more than 15 million visitors a year, such a strategy is no longer viable, raising the need to find new ways to promote sustainable growth, argues Oh Young-hun of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea in his bid to become the next governor of Jeju Province.
In an interview with The Korea Herald earlier this month, Oh said the island can no longer rely on large-scale development projects to grow as a tourist destination, saying Jeju should be willing to better utilize its unique natural resources and diversify its portfolio of offerings to visitors.
“I believe we should see more and diverse travel packages for tourists pursuing different values like healing and wellness while meeting the needs of individual travel trends,” Oh said.
“The priority is diversifying travel packages and programs so that visiting Jeju comes with various fresh values, and we need to find ways for the benefit earned from these programs to return to the province’s residents.”
If elected, Oh said he will develop travel products that highlight the natural resources of Jeju while promoting programs that allow travelers to interact with natives as well as the island’s history and culture. He also believes Jeju is an appealing destination for “workation” seekers, those who seek to blend their work and vacation.
In pursuing this course, the provincial government under his rule would provide incentives to residents and communities running eco-friendly programs, which will translate into additional tour packages for visitors seeking programs involving nature.
The island will benefit from the Ministry of Environment’s subsidy programs for those providing ecosystem services, and Oh said he plans to have all of Jeju’s territory as a conservation area to have its residing communities receive subsidies and receive financial support from the central government.
“Jeju needs to take a leap for a new paradigm and distance itself from the situation where it has to choose between development and preservation,” Oh said.
“The new future for Jeju and its residents is a society where quality of life is prioritized and a society that can welcome the harmony of people and nature.”
To find new growth engines for Jeju residents, Oh said he will also look to foster the agricultural and fisheries sectors of the island and use the momentum to create new jobs in diverse sectors. He vowed to bring in 20 listed firms and unfold new welfare policies targeting those in their 20s and 30s.
The Democratic Party politician expects the island will see a greater number of international travelers with reintroduction of visa-free programs next month, but stressed that Jeju should rely less on Chinese travelers for international tourism.
Many tourist attractions in Jeju targeting foreigners faced immense business losses since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the number of visitors from China plummeting.
“If dependence on tourism from a certain country stays high, the tourism market will inevitably face constant fear and uncertainty in response to changes in the global market,” Oh said.
“To meet this concern, I will expand the base and portfolio of Jeju’s tourism market so that tourists from various countries visit the island.”
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org