▲ The cruise industry will be a central pillar of Jeju's future growth. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
“We have truly become an international city.”
With both pride and relief, Moon Kyeong-Ho was reflecting on Jeju hitting its target of 2 million foreign tourists. The director of marketing at Jeju Tourism Organization believes that Jeju now ranks alongside the Balis and Hawaiis of the world as an established international destination.
Xu Kun Biao from China became the 2-millionth foreign visitor on Tuesday, Oct. 15 and Moon praised the effort of all islanders in achieving the milestone. “It is not just a number, but a joint effort,” he said. “From the JTO, the provincial government and small businesses across the island.”
The market is dominated by Chinese - slightly denting Jeju’s international pretensions - but Moon said Jeju’s geographic proximity meant that naturally Chinese should comprise the bulk of tourists.
Diversification is on the cards, however, and industry minds have been particularly concentrated by the recent promulgation of a new Chinese tourism law. Chinese tourists across the region had complained of widespread malpractice by agencies and Beijing brought in the law to restrict low-budget operations and protect tourists’ rights.
Visitors from China are expected to fall in the short term and growth has slowed from 70 percent to 12 percent after promulgation on Oct. 1. Moon pragmatically believes the law has come at a good time for Jeju, when industry realignment was already being mooted.
“It is time for a paradigm change in the local tourism industry,” he said. “We need to move from group tours to FIT [Free Independent Travelers], from quantity to quality. It is now important to balance development throughout the island and provide more high-value tour products for individual travelers.”
Moon states that by 2020 foreign tourists are expected to reach 5 million, 3.5 million of whom will be Chinese. Including domestic tourists, total annual footfall should reach 15 million, up from around 10 million this year. Moon believes the increase in FIT travel will make adaptation unproblematic.
Currently 82 percent of domestic tourists are FIT, while this figure is just 30 percent for foreign visitors. Moon predicts foreign FIT will rise sharply in the years ahead, allowing the local infrastructure to move away from its traditional group-tour base.
▲ Governo Woo Keun-min greets the 2-millionth foreign visitor to Jeju this year. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
There might also be some unexpected benefits. FIT naturally favour small-scale tourist attractions that reflect Jeju’s culture and environment. Free of the itineraries of agencies, they use more public transport, patronize more small busi-nesses and are less likely to be bussed out to themed museums. The Olle system exemplifies such low-impact tourism and small guesthouses and coffee shops are likely to benefit also.
Concept travel, such as ‘healing,’ is set to grow, as is medical travel. Greenland Group’s flagship Healthcare Town in Seogwipo, slated for completion by 2014, will lead the wider healthcare sector. Golf, weddings and leisure are also tar-geted as growth areas.
While most domestic tourists already behave as independent travelers, they have none of the language or cultural needs of international visitors. Moon is aware of the changes needed ahead.
“FIT see all corners of the island, not just the city. They want to see the real Jeju, use restaurants and interact with local people,” he said. “They need more support.”
While Moon cites more direct flights as essential to this growth, the cruise industry is also crucial. Of the 3.5 million Chinese projected to arrive annually by 2020, most will arrive by ship. The JTO predicts 2 million cruise passengers by 2020, while the cruise industry itself is suggesting 2.5 million will disembark. The developments at Jeju Outer Port and Gangjeong Port will accommodate these numbers.
“This will allow for a balance in development between north and south. Infrastructure around Seogwipo and Gangjeong will be needed, lessening the pressure on Jeju City,” said Moon.
Online services are key to accommodating the increased numbers, as is public transport and - with much of the predicted growth coming from Southeast Asia - cultural services, such as prayer rooms and halal dining options for Muslims. While Jeju is some way off its target, it has a model.
“Singapore shares many characteristics with Jeju. It, too, is dominated by Chinese tourists and has a large cruise industry. We are benchmarking its online services for tourists.”
Selected Thai islands are also providing models for medical tourism, where Thailand leads the world. This regional focus mirrors where industry crosshairs are trained for future visitor growth.
“We are now concentrating on countries in close geographic proximity, as Singapore and Bali did. We must have success in this market before looking further afield to Europe and America,” said Moon, suggesting a slight realigning of marketing priorities.
The realization of these goals, however, is still some way off. Jeju’s rise on the international stage has been sudden and it is yet to be seen if it is sustainable. While the new Chinese law may have forced Jeju’s hand, the diversification of the tour industry could be beneficial.
As a new airport is mooted and port facilities are developed at Jeju City and Gangjeong, the latest slogan on officials’ lips is “The treasure island of all the world’s 7 billion people.” Moon and the JTO are thus engaged in a delicate balancing act between growth and protecting what makes Jeju a “treasure island.”
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