Yangyang International Airport in Gangwon Province was once called "the world's quietest" airport by the BBC because not a single plane took off there between Nov. 2, 2008 and Aug. 14, 2009. Yet although the ghost airport did not see a single passenger over the period, some 70 staffers still worked there.
It was the perfect example of pork-barrel politics, putting vested interests ahead of economic rationality and squandering taxpayers’ money.
But on Tuesday, the airport saw no fewer than 224 Chinese visitors. Until October, a total of 23,300 passengers had used the airport this year, and the figure is expected to rise to over 32,000 by the end of the year.
These signs of life can be attributed to the regional government's efforts to lure visitors there. According to the provincial government, the number of Chinese visitors to the province soared from 134,000 in 2008 to 253,000 last year, an increase of 88 percent, and will likely reach 360,000 this year.
The province came up with various ways of encouraging Chinese visitors to use the airport. The governor went to Beijing and Harbin in October to promote it, offering Chinese travel agencies a subsidy of W10,000 per tourist (US$1=W1,091).
The airport also made its own efforts to suit Chinese visitors, including Chinese language lessons for staff and displaying the Chinese national flag. "Chinese visitors generate so much economic benefits for the regional economy that they offset the subsidies. It's profitable overall," a provincial government official said.
With the new influx of Chinese visitors, the duty-free shop at the airport is expected to post W700 million in sales this year, the airport chief said. It is expected to be positively crowded in January, when the Pyeongchang Special Olympics take place, he added.