Jeju Attracts More Tourists Than Hawaii, Bali, Okinawa

South Korea’s resort isle of Jeju will again surpass Bali and Hawaii remain the world’s most visited tourist island this year thanks in large part to its proximity to northeastern China.

As of November 30 Jeju-do (Jedu Island) had been visited by just over 10 million, an 11.4% jump over the same period of 2012. Most of that increase is due to the 40.6% surge in the number of visitors from China which lies about 250 miles to the west of Jeju. Chinese account for about 23% of Jeju’s visitors.

The island is also only about 70 miles from mainland Korea which accounts for about 60% of visitors. Japanese, who had been by far the biggest group of international visitors until 2009, now make up the third largest group.

In 2012 Jeju was the 15th most popular destination for travelers from mainland China, just behind New York and London and just above Boracay Philippines and Kyoto Japan. Seoul was in 8th place. Hong Kong and Phuket, Thailand were the two most popular destinations. For 2013 Jeju is expected to climb to 13th place.

Jeju’s average annual tourism growth of 13.1% has outpaced those of Bali’s 12%, Hawaii’s 6.3% and Okinawa’s -0.2%. In 2012 Bali had 8.95 million visitors, Hawaii had 7.99 million and Okinawa 5.83 million while Jeju Island had about 9.1 million.

This year’s growth surge is attributed to new routes by budget airlines, the creation of the “Jeju Olle” scenic trekking trails, and its UNESCO listing in 2002 among the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, in 2007 as a World Natural Heritage site and in 2010 in the Global Geoparks Network.

Most of Jeju’s tourism growth has come recently. In 1966 it had just 100,000 visitors. It reached the 1 million mark in 1983 and the 5 million mark in 2005. In 2013 it’s expected to exceed its goal of 10.5 million visitors. Jeju’s projected tourism earnings of about $6 billion is twice what it earned in 2010. It’s also about eight times that of its next biggest income source — tangerine farming. — Day Nahm Kagy