South Korea’s visa-free Jeju Island has become a Chinese tourism gold mine

Real clean air awaits.
Real clean air awaits.
Image: Jeju Provincial Government
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Chinese tourists are heading to South Korea more than any other destination this year, according to travel agency Ctrip. That’s because political instability has turned many off Thailand, and China’s ties with South Korea have been warming.

But most of all there is the undeniable appeal of Jeju. The resort island off the South Korean coast is drawing Chinese tourists with its subtropical climate, visa-free status, and attractions like casinos and an erotic-sculpture theme park known as Loveland (the link is safe for work; a Google image search for the park is definitely not.)

By offering visa-free travel to a beautiful subtropical island, South Korea may have found a solution to a problem that is causing headaches for cash-hungry tourism agencies the world over. How do you attract the lucrative Chinese tourist trade while limiting the collateral damage done by some of the country’s occasionally uncouth travelers, not to mention the backlash when Chinese tourists feel they have been mistreated?

In 2013, almost four million mainland Chinese tourists visited South Korea, and 1.8 million of them went to Jeju. (The island has also been in the news as the destination of the ill-fated MV Sewol ferry, whose sinking killed nearly 300 people.) If Ctrip’s predictions are correct, the number of mainland tourists visiting South Korea will rise to 5.6 million this year—equal to over 10% of South Korea’s population.