The Jeju Olle Walking Festival successfully ended on November 14th. The word “Grand Finale” would aptly describe its conclusion. In the aftermath of COVID-19, most of the nation’s cultural tourism festivals were canceled or switched to online broadcasting. But at Jeju Olle Walking Festival, more than 900 people traveled around Jeju Island for 23 days. At the closing ceremony held in front of the Jeju Olle Tourist Center on the last day, the staff and participants shared the moment of overwhelming joy.
▲ Photo=Jeju Olle
The Jeju Olle Walking Festival, an open festival that takes place on the road, started in 2010 and celebrated its 11th anniversary this year. During the ten years, the number of participants at the festival reached 106,000, including 16,000 foreign participants. The festival has become one of the leading festivals in Jeju in the fall, and 95% of the participants say they want to revisit the festival. In previous years, 3,000-4,000 people gathered and held a lively fest as they walked along the streets, but that was impossible this year. While they did consider canceling the festival, endless inquiries arrived about the festival since spring.
▲ Photo=Jeju Olle
The Jeju Olle Secretariat eventually devised a way for the participants to walk individually yet together. They were divided into 23 teams and scattered across 23 courses. With fifteen people per team, they checked temperatures every day, wore masks, and kept a distance of 2m with each other. Two volunteers were assigned to each team to ensure the safety of participants. Thanks to this measure, more than 900 people (5,400 cumulatively) enjoyed the festival safely. Some participants walked only one or two courses, while others completed a round trip around Jeju Island.
This year’s walking festival wasn’t just about walking. Olle prepared substantial programs according to the course and the day of the week. They brewed Jeju traditional liquor at the brewery and had a meaningful time listening to the village’s history directly from the residents. They also held surprise concerts every weekend. Residents were more glad to see customers consistently for 23 days than a single event where thousands of people swarmed in and disappeared. Yoon Seung-hwan, the manager of Mureung Oegotjip, which sells seasonal agricultural products in Daejeong-eup, Seogwipo, said, “The festival participants who visited each day showed high interest in local agricultural products, and sales during the festival increased significantly.”
▲ Photo=Jeju Olle
At the closing ceremony, an award ceremony was held to celebrate those who completed the trails. Out of the participants at this year’s walking festival, 56 people walked all 23 courses in Jeju Olle (390km excluding the islets). There were also avid Olle participants who completed the Jeju Olle thirty-four times. Some first-time hikers have finished the courses as well.
This year’s Jeju Olle Walking Festival has great implications. This kind of “distributed festival” proved that you could enjoy a festival while keeping the disease prevention guidelines. Although many find it hard to keep their spirits up due to COVID-19, the festival provided an opportunity to confirm that there is still significant demand to revel in nature.
Seo Myeong-suk, the chair of Jeju Olle, remarked, “I wanted to hold a one-month festival around Jeju someday in the distant future. Ironically, that dream came true in the COVID era. As always, we will find answers on the road and prepare for the festival next year.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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