Summer is almost over. Already the shorter days and longer nights are noticeable. The children are being sent off to school and that family vacation has become a memory, keeping you warm while you toil away the cold winter months. Jeju Island, considered by most as a tourism destination, capitalized on the season to improve its marketing and branding campaigns and was well rewarded for its efforts.
According to Oh Chang Hyeon, marketing director for the Jeju Tourism Organization, there was a 14 percent increase of tourists visiting the island from last year, which, he believes was the result of the overall change in the perception of travel. Previously, bus tours and sight-seeing trips were the preferred way to see the island, but since the establishment of the Jeju Olle walking trails and other eco-friendly activities, traveling Jeju individually and by foot has become the new trend. “I see a great change in Jeju’s tourism style,” Oh said. “It is pedestrianism. Trekking has been dominant.”
As a member of the establishing committee for Olle he remarked, “It has been a great success as an item for Jeju, because Olle has fulfilled a desire, and a new desire for new possibilities on Jeju and it has been successful.” The Olle and other environment-centric activities on Jeju have coincided, if not help create, this change in attitude towards travel, which bolstered the number of tourists for Jeju. During the summer season the island averaged 770,000 tourists a month.
The smaller islets that dot Jeju’s coastline also added to this overall number. Oh said that “Jeju is a tourist attraction that has a very high percentage of revisitation and it has become very public and generic for Korean tourists and I see that Korean tourists are looking for new adventures even within the island.” It appears that Jeju’s novelty may have worn off slightly and those who have been here before are venturing out to islands like Udo, which has seen a sharp increase in visitors this year. Oh believes that this has much to do with “Udo-centric commodities that have been promoted more and more,” and the many festivals that the islet has played host to this summer.
Though, there is a worry for Oh concerning the amount of tourists now flocking to Udo. Oh said that the amount of tourists visiting the islet might damage the nature, which they traveled there by ferry to see. “
This [increase in tourists] can be a problem because of the asset that Udo has is its nature, but if too many tourists go there, it will not be preserved as it is for long.” Currently, Oh and his team are attempting to apply restrictions to Udo that limit how many people and vehicles are permitted on the island daily. He is also constructing similar regulations for the Olle trails; “There are the environment sensitive and ecosystem sensitive courses that are out there and are seeing big increases in tourism and I want to find out a way to limit the quantity of tourists on those trails.”
This rebranding of Jeju as a healthier, greener way to travel has really made an impact with foreign tourists. Oh stated that this healthier image has been attractive to Japanese tourists 60-years of age and older. Though, the island’s recent appeal to its closest neighbor did not prevent a 5 percent decrease in Japanese tourists from last year. Oh said that this result was a casualty of last year’s bird flu epidemic, which prevented Japanese tourists admittance to the island, but when the ban was lifted they came to Jeju in flocks ballooning the summer average.
The only other area that Jeju saw a decline was in Western tourists. The statistics have not been finalized as of yet, but Oh said that due to extenuating circumstances there has been a decline in tourists from North America and Europe. The reason for this decrease is that more and more Koreans are holidaying in the west, which has created a shortage of plane tickets to Korea and those that are available have greatly risen in price.
Oh continued stating that the numbers would have been higher in every category this summer if it were not for the shortage in plane tickets. Jeju’s popularity among tourists is in excess of planes available and if this is rectified by next year Oh believes the number of tourists to Jeju will dramatically increase.
“If the airline problems are solved we will definitely see an increase next year.” This airplane predicament only worries Oh with concern to foreign tourists, since Jeju is in the process of developing new ways to reach the island. “I am not worried about Korean tourists, but for foreign tourists it may depend on how the airlines work,” Oh said.
To help continue this upswing in tourist numbers on Jeju, Oh and his team are working on creating a cohesive identity for the island, which he admits that currently “Jeju’s identity has been pretty vague,” due to the plethora of slogans being promoted. This is a result of the island tackling a number of different large-scale projects at the same time to not only lure tourists to Jeju, but also development and business. What occurs is that due to all the different messages being promoted they pollute one another and confuse their initial meanings. “We see that [Jeju’s branding] needs change, because it has been seen as confusing and vague recently. We are working on finding what represents Jeju the best.”
What may seem surprising to some is that Jeju has evolved from a seasonal tourist destination into a year round tourist hub. Complimenting the summer monthly average of 770,000 are the winter numbers which are approximately 500,000 tourists a month. “Summer is the peak season for Jeju,” Oh said, but due to the island’s temperate climate, natural assets and Olle, which is preferred during the cooler months, tourists are visiting the island all year round. “We don’t put too much emphasis on summer, specifically because we don’t look at Jeju as a summer vacation spot ... Jeju is not a summer exclusive tourism spot anymore.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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