Korea's UNESCO World Heritage sites have attracted soaring numbers of visitors since their inclusion on the list. The royal tombs from the Chosun Dynasty listed by UNESCO at the end of June last year saw its number of foreign visitors quintuple the following year, and Hahoe Village in Andong and Yangdong Village in Gyeongju, the two best-preserved historic clan villages added to the list in early August, saw the number of visitors from abroad almost double.
A total of 10,374 foreign travelers visited the royal tombs between July 2008 and June 2009, just before they became a UNESCO World Heritage site. But from July 2009 to June 2010, the number skyrocketed to 61,419.
The Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation established tour guide programs for visitors to help tourists better explore the royal palaces, royal tombs and the royal shrine, and tour operators launched a number of packages. This concerted effort led to greatly increased interest among foreign tourists.
Hahoe Village accommodated 578,559 visitors in the four months since its inclusion on the list, surpassing the 485,900 visitors in the seven months prior to the listing. On Nov. 7, it saw the number of annual visitors exceed 1 million. This is the first time since 1999, when Queen Elizabeth II of Britain visited. Yangdong Village has welcomed 356,000 visitors this year until November, up from 186,600 in the corresponding period of last year and the record since the village started counting visitors in 2005.
But the tourism infrastructure of the sites is in need of improvement. Although the number of visitors doubled or tripled on weekdays and rose by tenfold at weekends, toilets, parking spaces and accommodation have not been able to catch up.
Yu Jong-ho, the manager of Hahoe Village, said, "We have parking capacity for only 420 cars, and there is serious traffic congestion at weekends." Yangdong Village does not even have a parking lot, and uses the village's open spaces.
There is also a dearth of cultural content and programs to go along with the sites. Due to lack of programs, all visitors can do there is look around the houses where people still live, the ancestral shrine and pavilion. Lee Ji-hyu, a tour guide in the village, said, "In order to develop the site from a stopover destination to a long-stay place, there should be more diverse cultural programs for tourists to enjoy such as traditional feasts, ritual performances, and folk plays and games that can be found only in Confucian villages."