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Jeju resort has ‘authentic’ home experience on offerNew $1.8 billion resort looks to satisfy foreign, cash-rich tastes
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승인 2010.12.16  14:51:06
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▲ An artist's rendering of the Berjaya Jeju Resort. Courtesy Berjaya Jeju Resort Ltd.
“What in the world is the problem with Jeju food?” Kang Chang Soo, a provincial lawmaker, asked recently.

Kang was commenting during a meeting of the culture and tourism sub-committee, which had attacked Governor Woo Keun Min’s proposal which aims to satisfy Chinese palates better than local restau rants by opening a series of Chinese restaurants.

“If you are traveling overseas, why on earth would you look for home dishes when there are lots of exotic local delicacies [which] you can sample...?” Kang said, questioning the merit of the governor’s plan.

For sure, one of the greatest joys of traveling foreign countries is basking in the delight of local cuisine. However, even the seasoned travelers daring enough to stuff his or her stomach with some weird local foods will sometimes need to relax in the comfort of familiar home dishes.

Tang Vui Woon, assistant project director of Berjaya Jeju Resort Ltd. would certainly agree with such claim, since one of the key objectives of building the US$1.8 billion resort in the island is to provide that “authentic” home experience to foreign visitors and investors.

▲ At right, assistant project director Tang Vui Woon and his Korean counterpart Kang Choong Hyo. Photo by Jean K. Min

“The only international hotel brand foreign visitors can find on the island is Hyatt Regency Jeju,” Tang told The Jeju Weekly, adding that Berjaya Hotels and Resorts runs two franchise hotels of the Starwood Hotels and Resorts—Sheraton Hotel and Ritz Carlton Hotel. One of the two international hotel brands will be imported to Berjaya Jeju Resort, he confirmed, along with a 200-room residence, a 428-room resort hotel, 1,120 condominiums and a 150-bed medical center. All told, the resort will add a total of 1,920 new guest rooms in the island complete with a casino, a 6,000-seat arena and a shopping mall.

According to the master plan, when completed Berjaya Jeju Resort will likely become the first place in the island which foreign visitors can call “a home away from home.”

“It is not just hotels and resort. We are developing a township which consists of condominiums, medical facilities, shopping mall, casino, indoor arena and high-end villas that cater for international customers. So we are creating activities for all levels of people rather than targeting a specific group,” Tang said.

To ensure foreign visitors get the familiar home experience in a far away island that is Jeju, however, Tang and other staff at Berjaya Jeju Resort had to navigate a maze of governmental red tape and local planning methods since it was given the go ahead five years ago, processes unheard of in their homeland.

“The level of environmental requirements and other provincial regulations was most stringent in Jeju,” Tang confessed. But the biggest challenge he faced, ironically, was Korea's democracy. Accustomed to the top-down and straightforward decision making process of some authoritarian governments in Malaysia, Singapore and China, Tang found it difficult to get used to the time-consuming public approval process of Jeju, which is unique to democracy.

Still, integration with the local community is one of the top priorities for the resort. The resort relented on a number of points in order that good relations be maintained with Yerae, the town in which the resort is located. For example, the resort lowered the height of the proposed 38-story hotel after an environmental concern was raised about nearby flowing spring water.

The resort also plans to hire about 3,900 locals to staff the hotels and other facilities and last summer sent 10 local students for a six-week internship program at Berjaya Group's Malaysian headquarters.

The resort's key customers will be cash-rich Chinese hailing from the factory of the world, followed by mainland Koreans, Japanese and South-east Asians. So why build its first North-east Asian resort in Jeju, rather than in China?

China is not as an attractive market as before, Tang said, with its rising labor costs and ever-tightening governmental regulations. As many wealthy Chinese are eyeing for attractive overseas opportunities with its domestic investment environment steadily deteriorating, Jeju's strategic location from key northern Chinese cities is a compelling reason for the company to invest in the island. Hainan Island, currently one of the hottest property markets in China is some 4 hour flight away from Beijing, Dalian, Tsingtao and Shanghai, whereas Jeju can be reached within one to two hour flight from those cities. Furthermore, Chinese can come to Jeju easily because of the visa exemption allowed for them.

The resort also plans to attract wealthy foreign medical tourists to the island by partnering with a Seoul-based plastic surgery clinic. The technical excellence of Korea's plastic surgeons is well-known among Asian countries thanks to the growing popularity of Korean entertainment, Tang said. Unlike its Seoul counterpart, however, the resort's Jeju clinic can offer a pleasant environment for patients to recover from surgery. They can relax, for example, by either touring around the island or enjoying leisure and sport activities that Jeju offers.

What foreign investors hate the most is the uncertainty. By paving the road for other investors to follow, Tang believes, Berjaya Jeju Resort is setting a precedent. For the island's officials anxious to see Jeju take off as a “free international city,” it is critical that the resort is remembered as a success story, Tang stressed. And for many clueless future foreign investors looking for a comfortable guidepost in the island, the reporter realized, Berjaya Jeju Resort can be the first familiar face they can rely on.

By the way do you enjoy Jeju local food by now? I asked him. “I am getting used to [it],” Tang answered me with a wry smile.


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