May 10, 2013 10:18
A constant stream of chartered buses with Chinese tourists filled the parking lot by Yongduam, a volcanic rock shaped like a dragon's head, one of the most visited spots in Jeju Island, on Wednesday. The visitors listened to tour guides explain the legend behind the rock then busily snapped photos of the sea and coastal scenery.
"We've been seeing over 2,000 tourists a day lately because dragons have a very special place in Chinese culture," said a local tourism official, referring to the period from Apr. 27 to May 5, China's Labor Day holiday.
The island usually welcomes 1,000 Chinese a day, but more than three times as many turned up over the holiday.
Nearby, Bao Jian street, named after a large Chinese industrial group that sent its 12,000 employees to the island in 2011 as part of a reward program, is lined with seafood restaurants. Each has signs outside written in Mandarin, and Chinese-speaking employees work to usher tourists inside and provide a more comfortable dining experience.
One local business owner, who recently opened a cosmetics shop in the area, said, "There used to be many restaurants and bars here, but more stores handling cosmetics, red ginseng, clothes and accessories are opening as Chinese tourists are flocking to the island." He added that speaking Chinese is "essential if you want to run a shop here."
The increasing popularity of Korea's southern resort island among Chinese has been a boon for the local economy. Of the 519,000 foreign tourists who arrived in the first four months of the year, 361,000 were Chinese. This marks a 74 percent jump from the same period last year.
Over the Labor Day holiday, 73,000 Chinese tourists visited Korea. Of these, 29,500 flew to Jeju, which Chinese can now enter without a visa. The number was almost double the 15,800 who turned up in Jeju at the same time last year.
The increase has led to greater profits at duty free shops and many local businesses. "Sales have grown since March, and during the recent holiday, they rose 50 percent from last year," said an employee at the duty free shop of Hotel Shilla.
The number of air routes between Jeju and China has also risen to accommodate the growing demand. According to the Korea Airport Corporation, some 1,763 China-bound flights left the island between January and April, up almost 70 percent on-year. Now regular direct flights connect nine Chinese cities to Jeju, up from six last year. Charter flights also link the island to 24 Chinese cities, more than double 11 last year.
However, some Chinese tourists complain of a paucity of nightlife and entertainment, as there are no night markets or clearly defined bar and club districts on Jeju. "Some say they feel trapped in their rooms at night," said one tour guide.
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