▲ Mariner of the Seas at Jeju International Passenger Terminal. Photo by Kim Jinmi
Despite the growth in cruise tourism on Jeju, the recent arrival of the Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas showed that facilities are not keeping pace with passenger numbers. Visitors from around the world were left disappointed by their brief sojourn on the island.
The Mariner of the Seas, among the largest to dock on Jeju, arrived from Singapore via Okinawa on June 17. Docking at 6:40 a.m. passengers had to reboard at 11:30 a.m. before leaving for Shanghai at 1 p.m. Passengers had just three-and-a-half hours to explore the island once they had disembarked.
“We took this cruise specifically because of Korea and Japan, but we’ve got to be back on board in two-and-a-half hours,” said Craig Whatley from Sydney, Australia.
“It is really disappointing. If they want more people to come here they really need to develop the facilities…most of us want to spend more time here,” he added.
Jeju International Passenger Terminal can only accommodate one cruise liner and with the Voyager cruise ship due to arrive the Mariner was forced to depart for Shanghai. Despite the inconvenience, passengers spoke highly of the ship itself.
“Beautiful cruise ship…it’s hard to describe how good it is…it’s like being in a five-star restaurant…there’s cabaret shows, musicals,” said Rod Shevlin of Perth, Australia.
Much fanfare was made of the ship’s arrival with an opening ceremony including traditional dances and music. Jeju tourism chiefs exchanged gifts and gave speeches to herald the Mariner.
Despite this, Lee Jae Myung, of Tour Marketing Korea, agreed that facilities need improving.
“Infrastructure is not our responsibility, so it is up to the government,” said Lee. “But they are trying to [improve] around the port [and at Gangjeong].”
▲ Officials greet the crew and tour officials at the welcoming ceremony at Jeju International Passenger Terminal. Photo by Kim Jinmi
Cruise tourism is a key part of Jeju’s tourism growth strategy for the years ahead and 80 trips and almost 150,000 passengers visited the island in 2012. This number is set to double to 300,000 passengers in 2013 on a total of 150 trips.
While cruise tourism is playing catch-up in Asia, within 10 years it is predicted to overtake Europe, with China being a major source of demand.
Despite 70 percent of all foreign visitors to Jeju being Chinese, however, most of the Mariner’s passengers were non-Asian. They wanted more time to explore what Jeju and Korea has to offer.
“We feel Royal Caribbean has misrepresented this trip to us,” said Stuart Emerson from Leeds, UK. “They brought us here early in the morning and nothing is open. I’ve no doubt this island is beautiful, but we don’t have time to see anything.”
Brian Barr, also from Leeds, agreed.
“What a disgraceful time to bring us here. The shops will be opening just as we are leaving” said Barr. “It’s bad for the local economy.
▲ Cruise visitors were left disappointed by the brief Jeju stopover. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
Many tourists could be seen wandering around the port area trying to “get a feel for the area.” Some tourists managed to get taxis to the Jungang-ro shopping area and found a deserted underground shopping mall with closed shops.
Baek Hyun, vice president of Lotte Tourism Development – whose company signed a contract with Jeju government to develop the tour industry - conceded last year in an interview with The Jeju Weekly that more needs to be done to improve facilities.
“What Jeju needs to allow more cruise travelers is infrastructure for cruise tourism….Let alone the expansion of port facilities, Jeju needs to improve accommodation, shopping facilities, and restaurants for dining,” added Baek.
There are plans to improve infrastructure to accommodate the burgeoning number of passengers and the Sanjicheon area of downtown Jeju is also slated for gentrification to provide a gateway into the city. The port itself will also be redeveloped and Gangjeong Port in Seogwipo City will accommodate cruise ships when completed.
In the meantime, however, it seems that some passengers were content to stay on the boat. Australian Rosemary Ash was found taking advantage of the ship’s golfing facilities while docked.
“We probably would have gone ashore if we weren’t leaving [so soon]. It’s terrible leaving at 11:30 a.m.,” she said.
In between putting, Ash’s husband agreed things could be improved.
“We’ve done about 10 cruises around the world and we think this one needs to be improved a bit,” said Hugh Ash
As the Mariner sailed off towards Shanghai, there was plenty of food for thought for Jeju’s tourism chiefs.
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