Ever since Beijing decided to impose a blanket ban on group travel to South Korea, the country’s tourism industry has been in dire straits. While the effects of the travel ban have perhaps been less noticeable in Seoul as it remains frequented by independent travelers, the same can’t be said for popular tour group destinations beyond the capital.

Among the hardest hit is Jeju Island, a former top Chinese tourist destination in the Korea Strait. The attractions for Chinese tourists are many, including beach resorts and picturesque scenery. However, beyond that, Jeju Island also offers Chinese nationals visa-free entry—something not offered on the Korean mainland—one of many reasons the island province turned into such a tour group magnet. In the spirit of tourism development and increasing tourism revenues, Jeju is also the home to numerous casinos that have proven particularly attractive to Chinese consumers.

Jeju Island is the by far most convenient Korean destination for Chinese tourists to visit

Last, but not least, Jeju’s cruise port can also accommodate large cruise ships, which—combined with all the other reasons listed above—made it a sure stop on cruise itineraries sold in the Chinese market. In fact, the removal of Korean destinations from Chinese cruise itineraries is even believed to be one of the key reasons to China’s deflating cruise market in the last year.

While Chinese tourism may be slowly recovering in South Korea owing to a general shift toward independent travel in the market—and therefore unaffected by the travel ban—visitation remains far off where it was before China imposed its ban.

South Korea is shifting to independent travelers. Can tour-heavy Jeju do the same?

But there are efforts to revitalize Chinese tourism on Jeju Island—and perhaps mend some relations with Chinese compatriots in the same swing.

Next month, South Korea and China are holding a joint art exhibition on Jeju Island, bringing together seven Korean and five Chinese artists under the banner of “Jeju Paints Asia.”

Organizers Asia Art Management Association has only held one prior showcase, which celebrated 25 years of diplomatic ties between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Korea. In other words, a fair guess is that Sino-Korean ties are central to the association’s ambitions.

Art and culture as a means to mend ties with Chinese compatriots

That the organizers hope that the upcoming exhibition can help mend the strained relationship between the two countries is something the group’s CEO, Park Chul-hee is open about. “How Jeju can symbolize peace in Asia and how we can solve political tension through culture and art are what I had in mind when planning the event,” he told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. Park also expressed his hopes that Jeju Island can become a cultural hub in Northeast Asia.

If the Chinese side will prove receptive to this idea remains to be seen. Worst case scenario, Jeju Island sports an interesting exhibition that’ll at least stir up some extra interest among China’s independent travelers. That’s not too bad.


Destinations, Travel Trends