South Korea: Jeju Island soldiers on despite dwindling Chinese arrivals

Jeju Island recorded a sharp decline in Chinse tourists following geopolitical tension between South Korea and China. Source: Shutterstock

THE tourist-heavy island of Jeju in South Korea has long been a favorite among Chinese tourists, but retaliatory economic measures taken by China have caused numbers to plummet in the past few months. 

Geopolitical tension between the two nations caused a drop in arrivals as measures taken by China include banning tour packages to certain areas of South Korea.

In March, it was reported that while a cruise ship docked at Jeju Island, Chinese passengers remained on-board in a display of solidarity with their government’s vociferous opposition to South Korea.

Bai, from China’s western province of Gansu, told Reuters, “As Chinese, we surely should answer the government’s call at a special time, which meant not going to Jeju Island.”

On top of that, airlines such as China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd and Spring Airlines Co Ltd stopped online offers of flights between Jeju Island and China’s eastern city of Ningbo.

China is Jeju’s biggest tourist market. Source: Savvapanf Photo/Shutterstock

Kim Sangcheol, assistant manager for Jeju Tourism Organization’s overseas marketing department, told Travel Wire Asia at the recent ITE HCMC, that while the Chinese market used to dominate 80 percent of the island’s tourists, the figure had dropped to 60 percent.

Despite the tension, there appeared a glimmer of hope for China-South Korea relations China approved a plan by South Korea’s Jeju Air China to double its flights to the Chinese city of Weihai from June 2.

South Korea’s top low-cost carrier Jeju Air said it first applied to increase its flights to Weihai, to 14 a week from seven, in early April, but China had not approved the plan because of the diplomatic row.

“The political tension has had a far-reaching impact on flights between the two countries, including new flights, added flights and charter flights,” Jeju Air spokesman Park Jung-Jun said. “The latest move raises hopes the tension is easing.”

An unlikely MICE destination

Despite a relatively new boom, familiar luxury brands are on the rise – such as Hyatt and Somerset – in Jeju as investors take notice. One of the biggest projects to set up shop there is Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in Jeju Shinhwa World, a massive resort and entertainment development that will also feature a casino, retail spaces, a theme park, and a K-pop entertainment center.

The property will feature 240 guest rooms, suites and villas, as well as facilities for weddings and corporate events. The in-house spa will be designed in the style of a Korean tea house.

“Four Seasons is a huge deal. We welcome Four Seasons,” Sangcheol said.