▲ Passengers enjoy a calm day on Jeju's waters aboard the Shangri La. Photo courtesy Jeju Tourism Organization
The Jeju International Yacht School in Gimnyeong was founded through the Korea Sea Grants Program in 2009. The program funds innovative approaches to oceanic conservation and development, and grants totaling 1 billion won have been given since it began in 2009.
As education is seen as the backbone of the future yachting industry on Jeju, the Gimnyeong school focuses on providing school-age students with experience on the seas in the hope that, one day, those taught will become teachers themselves, said Prof. Lee Byung Gul, principal of the school.
The school offers three different class types. One-day classes take place on Friday afternoons and weekday classes are held Wednesday to Friday, with weekend classes every Saturday and Sunday.
“The first yachting school was set up only last year in Gyeonggi Province and our school is emulating their approach, which also received KGSP support. Oceanic tourism is relatively poorly developed compared to land-based tourism on Jeju,” Lee said. “We want to get as many people out on the seas as trek up Mount Halla.”
The main obstacle to further expansion is the scarcity of skilled yachtsmen and women. Once these personnel are in place the school hopes to provide short yachting skills courses to tourists in addition to the courses already available for Jeju residents.
“Gimnyeong is in many ways a pilot project for a model we would like to see spread across the island in the future,” Lee said. Future plans are for the school to be wholly sustainable and managed from Gimnyeong, with local ownership key to the stewardship of the program.
Just a little west of the school is the marina and office of Gimnyeong Yacht Tour, a luxury sailing option that may offer future employment to graduates of the local school. A private company run by president Kim Kwang Kyung, GNY Tour currently operates a 52-foot aluminum catamaran, Bona 520, and has a second yacht being built to be commissioned next spring, with plans for another addition to the fleet the following year. Kim said he saw a lot of yachts while in the United States working around 2003 and thought it would be an ideal business for Korea.
“Nowadays leisure culture is changing as we get much wealthier and many people want to have a yacht,” he said. The industry is still in its infancy in Korea, so businesses such as GNY Tour offer an introduction to the sport for what are predominantly first-time sailors, he said. “Most of them don’t have much chance to even see a luxury yacht.”
Kim and his crew, all of whom are professionally qualified, offer guests a standard one-hour tour that includes sailing offshore, fishing and a snack of sushi accompanied by wine; sunset tours during the summer; and private charters. Bona has also featured on the Korean drama “Bad Guy,” after which bookings increased, Kim said. The yacht is also a popular location for filming private videos or shooting clothing advertisements, with Jeju’s waters glistening in the background.
“From next year, I will start a charter business and try to make a new route from Gimnyeong to Udo and from Gimnyeong to the small islands at the south of the mainland,” he said.
Kim said there are only two such businesses operating sailing yachts on the island, the second of which is on the other side of the island.
Shangri-La, which operates out of Jungmun Resort, began with one catamaran in 2005 and now has a fleet of four catering to about 50,000 guests annually. Its yachts are regularly used for weddings, photo shoots, business seminars and television dramas, director Yoon Jeong said.
“We’ve had growing interest in the services we offer ever since we opened for business five years ago,” she said. “TV dramas regularly film on our yachts and those who have filmed include ‘A Man Rather Than a Flower’ and ‘Swallow the Sun.’ We plan to expand our fleet by a yacht year-on-year until we have a total of 10.”
The business has a range of clientele from countries that include Israel, Russia and China, but there is also core support among Korean holidaymakers. Yoon said Shangri-La was the first public yachting service in the country. “Our goal is to be accessible to the public and not to price ordinary people out of enjoying the great Jeju ocean,” she said.
Tourist Song Wei, from Shanghai, China, whose smile belied her enjoyment of the excursion she was on, said next time she would take an even longer trip.
“Despite being expensive relative to China, I really enjoyed the time out on the yacht and would recommend it to my friends. Next time I would like to spend a little longer out there.”
Shangri-La is part of the multi-faceted business Jeju Marine Park, which in addition to yachting offers the Pacific Land animal show, Viva Jet boat rides and the Shangri-La seafood buffet. Yoon believes that the industry can only get bigger and bigger.
“We have seen from the growing interest in our yachting that there is definitely scope for expansion, both domestically and internationally. The views from the sea up to Mount Halla and the island as a whole are stunning; it is no wonder more and more people want to experience it,” she said.
Kim, of GNY Tour, thinks similarly about the future growth of the yachting industry in Korea. “Nowadays, a lot of regional offices try to offer yacht courses,” he said. “In two or three years, maybe two or three times as many people will sail.”
With Jeju’s clear waters, beautiful beaches and stunning mountain vistas, it seems the ideal venue for those future sailors to spend their leisure hours. The sight of yachts off the Jeju coast may not yet be a common sight but as this sector grows, it could become as ubiquitous a Jeju scene as the squid boats at sunset.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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