Eco-Travel on Jeju Island, the Hawaii of Korea
Article by Michael Soncina in http://www.yourtravelchoice.org
I pride myself on being an independent traveler/backpacker. So when planning my travels I seldom even consider a group package. When I got it into my head to take a group tour of Jeju Island in South Korea, I was embarking on travel I seldom do.
Cheonjeyon Waterfall, Jeju Island (Photo by Michael Soncina)
While in Korea I met up with some of TIESâ€™ organizations members to learn more about how ecotourism was developing in Korea. After contacting a couple professors and industry professionals, I was referred to â€œVictorâ€ – a Russian expat running group tours on Jeju Island. Victor actually does not claim to be doing eco-tourism, but youâ€™ll come to see that he is, when you see the way he runs his trips. Green tea plantations, rock formation, deer conservations make up the majority of his trip. Small groups travel around the island in his minivan, eat at local restaurants and leave minimal impact on the sights we visit. If he does not want to consider this â€œeco-tourismâ€ we can all agree it is at least low impact.
Jeju Island offers an interesting context to look at tourism. For decades, due to its tropical climate and natural capital, it was considered the â€œHawaii of Koreaâ€. Droves of mainlanders would come to Jeju looking for an escape from their hectic lives spend some time in the sun with family and loved ones. As interest in the island increased so did its development. Now existing side by side with waterfalls are African, teddy bear museums and the bizarre Love Land, sex-themed amusement park.
View from Jejuâ€™s Sunrise Peak (Photo by Michael Soncina)
What may help in the islands preservation is recent interest in the island, which has been chosen as one of the new natural wonders of the world – along with Halong Bay in Vietnam and the Iguazu falls in Brazil. In addition, Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes are a UNESCO World Heritage site, ensuring the protection of some of the islandâ€™s natural beauty. What UNESCO and the local government have agreed upon was creating zones for the island, designating areas where construction and other economic activities could occur.
Personally, with the influx of museums, souvenir shops, hotels and other mass tourism infrastructure, I donâ€™t know how long this will protect the islandâ€™s natural environment. It seemed Victor also had doubts of the impact of the â€œnatural wonderâ€ designation and its effects on ecotourism. I think Victorâ€™s tour is a step in the right direction for promoting eco-tourism on the island. As an individual he is knowledgeable and critical, and understands how to interact with a variety of customers from different demographics.
It will be interesting to see as Jeju becomes more popular with international visitors (Chinese tour groups are already starting to visit the beach in droves) how the island will change and what aspects it will sacrifice in the name of economic development. Till that happens, enjoy Jeju for what it is; a great getaway from the craziness of the mainland, a place to eat fresh oranges, lay on the beach and enjoy nature.
If you have time, get in touch with Victor, and he will not only show you around and teach you a lot about the island, but also take you to see the cutest deer that can only be seen on Jeju – Who can say no to that!