▲ Cruises are bringing thousands of extra tourists to Jeju’s shores. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-governing Province
There can be no argument that the cruise industry on Jeju Island is undergoing a period of rapid growth and remarkable change. In 2011, more than 10 international cruise ships visited Jeju 69 times, collectively carrying approximately 65,000 passengers. As of November, 2012, over 140,000 tourists visited the island in 80 trips from 9 major cruise liners.
Compared to 2011, the number of cruise passengers visiting Jeju in 2012 underwent a 116 percent increase. The triple-digit growth in cruise passengers is driven by an insatiable demand from Chinese tourists and the cruise liners are catering to them by providing more services between China and Jeju.
Industry insiders believe this growth is just the beginning, with huge potential for further expansion. By 2015 it is estimated that 1,000,000 international travelers will come to Jeju by cruise ship, the vast majority being Chinese.
The consensus is that the cruise industry will develop quickly in China and the Asian market will reach as many as 5 million passengers per year by 2020. In 10 years it is predicted that the market in Asia will have grown larger than that of Europe. The growth in cruises in Asia has led to a greater demand for newer and more exotic destinations and one such place is Jeju Island.
For many Chinese people, Jeju is a hot destination, along with Phuket, Thailand and Bali, Indonesia. The number of Chinese tourists visiting Jeju as of Dec. 6 this year exceeded 1,040,000, which is a 93.8 percent increase compared to the previous year, and accounts for more than 70 percent of all foreign visitors. Travel experts claim the main reason for this is that accessibility to Jeju has been improved through the expansion of direct air routes and cruise trips.
The Jeju provincial government is beginning to recognize the central role of cruise visitors to the tourism industry on Jeju and aims to make Jeju an inter-national cruise hub for Far East Asia.
To achieve this, the Jeju government signed a preliminary contract on Nov. 23 with Lotte Tourism Development and with Costa Cruise, one of the top-three cruise companies in the world. Lotte Tourism Development is charged with recruiting cruise passengers and developing cruise tour programs on Jeju.
According to the agreement, Costa will bring an estimated 100,000 cruise passengers to Jeju on two routes, sailing from China and Japan, respectively. In return, the Jeju government promises to improve infrastructure to accommodate the burgeoning number of passengers, including providing berths for the cruise ships.
The Jeju Weekly interviewed Buhdy Bok and Tang Feng Rong from Costa Cruise, and Bak Hyum from Lotte Tourism Development at the Ramada Hotel the day after the contract ceremony.
Buhdy Bok, vice president of Costa Cruise in Pacific Asia and China said, “Geographically speaking, Jeju Island is in the right place in Northeast Asia. The geographic positioning of Jeju Island can be key to the growth of the cruise tourism business.”
Added to this advantage is the natural attractiveness of Jeju. “Our customers are really satisfied with Jeju Island, which makes me value Jeju as an ideal cruise destination,” he added.
Currently, cruise travelers only have between four and eight hours to explore Jeju, after disembarking at the port. Asked whether it is possible to extend the staying hours on Jeju, he answered simply, “Yes.” “Chinese tourists tend to travel only 4 to 5 days, to 2 or 3 destinations. They are expected to travel longer days as their lifestyles change. As their cruises lengthen, their length of stay on Jeju Island will also increase,” said Bok.
▲ From left to right, Buhdy Bok, Jeju Governor Woo Keun Min and Baek Hyun. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-governing Province
Tang Feng Rong, a regional sales director for Costa Crociere S.P.A stressed the potential benefits Jeju can take from the growing cruise industry in Asia.
“Jeju has everything that cruise travelers like: an exotic island, fresh air, and a convenient location. The deep impression left by Jeju Island, despite their short stay, will make them visit the island again,” Tang said.
However, she also points out the less convenient aspects of Jeju for cruise tourists. For example, she believes the language barrier is an obstacle, such as when visiting Jeju’s traditional markets.
“Jeju needs to think about how to communicate better and how to make tourists feel more welcomed...if translated menus or pictures were available there, it would feel more convenient for tourists to shop,” said Tang.
Baek Hyun, vice president of Lotte Tourism Development, also felt there were some barriers to fully taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the cruise industry.
“What Jeju needs to allow more cruise travelers is infrastructure for cruise tourism. A few years ago, the Jeju government did not even know why Jeju needs to invest in cruise-related infrastructure... in terms of brand power to promote Jeju globally, this is a huge opportunity,” said Baek.
He emphasized the need to expand cruise infrastructure, including port facilities, as essential to accommodate more ships and more passengers.
“Let alone the expansion of port facilities, Jeju needs to improve accommodation, shopping facilities, and restaurants for dining which could accommodate thousands of passengers at once,” added Baek.
Asked what other areas Jeju could improve on to take advantage of the rapidly growing cruise industry, he answered promptly, “the hospitality of Jeju residents.”
“Most cruise tourists are first-time visitors to Jeju. Leaving Jeju with a good image is very important. Jeju residents need to keep that in mind,” he said.
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