May 8, 2023
SEOUL – Traveling to experience Jeju Island’s natural wonders as a non-resident may soon require paying a daily entry fee of approximately 8,000 won ($6).
A decade-long debate over an “environmental fee” or “entry fee” has been reignited after the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province announced on April 16 that the island is discussing legislation which mandates visitors to pay tourism fees to support environmental preservation.
Specific plans on the collection method of such payments, as well as the exact amount, have not yet been disclosed. However, based on a study conducted in 2018, the fee is likely to be an average of 8,170 won per day. The study suggested charging 1,500 won per night for accommodation and 5,000 won per day for rental cars.
Jeju Governor Oh Young-hun was right when he said that such a bill would need consent and support from the public at the provincial council on April 13, as the idea of imposing such fees faces significant opposition from some tourists and residents.
A comment posted in an online tourists’ community said that the island should implement a price-control policy instead, expressing frustration on how stores in Jeju are charging ridiculous prices even for a cup of coffee compared to Seoul.
Another comment expressed a preference for traveling to Southeast Asia instead of Jeju due to the significantly lower total travel expenses.
“This discussion has been dragging on for more than a decade,” said Jeju Island’s major heritage festival director, surnamed Kang, who was born and raised on the island, in an interview with The Korea Herald.
“The tremendous environmental damage caused by tourism is left to the island to take care of at the end of the day. I think paying a relatively small entry fee is the least visitors can do.”
Kang added that such a policy will lead to other positive results, such as encouraging visitors to reflect on themselves and voluntarily becoming conscious travelers by trying to avoid small things such as littering.
A 41-year-old office worker surnamed Kwon, who lives in Seoul and travels to Jeju Island at least three times a year, thinks paying an extra entry fee would be too much for tourists.
“I think the so-called “environmental fees” should be charged to owners of restaurants, shops and accommodations, whether it be a firm or an individual,” Kwon said. “After the pandemic, I see Jeju airport overcrowded with passengers, on both weekdays and weekends. You might argue that they damage the environment and litter, but if you turn the argument around, they are also the ones paying tons of money throughout their stay, everywhere they go.” Kwon added that if Jeju Island’s government still sees the need to charge an entry fee to travelers, then it should transparently and publicly reveal exactly where, when and how the fees are being used each year.
If such legislation is implemented, the island forecasts the collected fees to total some 141 billion won in the first year. As people get used to the policy, the figure will gradually increase up to 154 billion won in the second year, and 167 billion in the third.
When The Korea Herald asked Jeju Special Self-Governing Province’s environment protection department about the potential spending and allocation of the collected fees, an official replied that it hopes to cover a wide range of categories, ranging from removing sea waste to conducting ecological conservation projects. The province also hopes to buy up private land in need of environmental protection, according to the official.
Yun Hyeong-joon, CEO of Jeju’s popular tourism platform KAFLIX, said that the term “entry fee” will give the wrong impression to tourists from the start. “It should be called an ‘Environmental Conservation Contribution Fee.’ If you travel to advanced countries in the world that aim for carbon neutrality, you will be charged with environmental tax or a sanctuary fee in certain locations, which travelers find natural.”
Yun mentioned that charging a set amount for renting cars per day is unreasonable, since one could rent a car for a week and drive less than 50 kilometers, while others might be on the road all the time.
“I think the idea simply came out of administrative expediency, but what we really need for the environment is to handle food waste problems and closely monitor and protect the vulnerable environment in certain tourist spots,” Yun noted.
Last year, Jeju Island attracted 13.59 million tourists, according to the Jeju Tourism Organization. In 2019, the island received its highest number of tourists, totaling 15.28 million, with 1.72 million of them being foreigners.