In spite of the continued impact of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the number of tourists visiting Jeju has surpassed 10 million a month earlier than last year. According to the Jeju Tourism Organization, the cumulative number of tourists for this year recorded 9,994,496 (tentative) as of the 7th of last month, with the number on the next day surpassing 10 million for the ninth consecutive year.
As recently as 2005, the annual influx of tourists into Jeju was only around 5.02 million. However, the rise of affordable airlines and the Olleh Trail boom eventually helped the annual number of tourists to exceed 10 million for the first time in 2013, later reaching its highest-ever record of 15.85 million in 2016. In the following year of 2017, the number fell to 14.75 million with a decrease in visitors from China due to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system dispute between Korea and China in March 2017.
Eventually, as trends shifted towards domestic individual tourists, the number grew again to 15.28 million in 2019. This raised hopes for the recovery of the tourism industry, which was once again impeded due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020. Following the identification of the first infection in February 2020, the monthly number of tourists visiting Jeju, which had exceeded 1.06 million per month, suddenly dropped by almost half down to 628,804 for February 2020.
The introduction of the infection control regime based on social distancing proved to be a direct hit on the summer and year-end peak seasons as well. Although the annual tourist figure just barely exceeded 10 million as of December 17, this represented a drop of almost 5 million in the space of a year. This year, the third wave of COVID-19 from the beginning of the year led to the number of tourists being limited at 430,000 in January. Later, as Korea’s vaccination program gained pace, the number of tourists began to rise again, starting with 1.07 million in April.
As the vaccination rate increased in addition to expectations for a phased return to normal life, seasonal trends in tourism also shifted. For example, instead of the usual summer peak season, the autumn peak season emerged, demonstrating a reversal in seasons. Generally, September experiences a 20% decline in the number of tourists compared to the peak month of August, but there was almost no discernible decline this year, with the number instead growing by 20% in October compared to August.
The autumn tourism trend was also clearly reflected in air transport figures at Jeju International Airport, as the airport accommodated 1,911,785 users in September alone, showing an almost 30% increase from 1,472,354 for the same period in the previous year. The cumulative number of users from January to September reached 18,185,018. As the procession of visitors continued through autumn, accommodation and car rental sectors have seen peak-level activity.
As the phased return to normal life has sparked an explosive growth in travel demand, the influx of tourists is likely to continue to the end of the year. At the current pace, the annual number of tourists looks to potentially reach 12 million, an increase of 2 million from last year.
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