JEJU ISLAND -- Jeju Island, a popular travel destination both for South Koreans and foreigners, has seen a surge of tourists in recent years.
A beach near Hado-ri, Jeju Island (Im Eun-byel / The Korea Herald)
Accessible by an 80-minute flight from Seoul, around 15.4 million tourists visit the island each year. In fact, the Seoul-Jeju route is one of the most active flight routes anywhere in the world.
As a result, Jeju residents are struggling with the drawbacks of excessive tourism. Gentrification is a serious problem on the island, where the amount of trash thrown out per person is also the highest in the country.
Airbnb, a global online home-sharing platform, hopes to address the situation by linking tourists with local residents to bring out the human side of traveling. The platform suggests sustainable tourism, recommending that tourists engage in eco-friendly activities, support the local economy, and be involved with the local culture and society.
Staying with a local
Chuidasun Resort Jeju (Im Eun-byel / The Korea Herald)
As a home-sharing service, Airbnb promotes the idea of staying at a local resident’s home. Accommodations listed on Airbnb are run by locals rather than hotel chains.
But for those who want to experience a homestay while also enjoying hotel-style service, Chuidasun Resort Jeju may be an option. The family-run resort in the Seongsan area bills itself as a center for tea and meditation.
An Hee-jeong, the CEO of the hotel, relocated to Jeju Island to run the hotel with her family. Her father, who goes by the pen name Ilso, is into meditation and dado, a traditional tea ceremony.
Meditation classes are offered every morning, and one can experience the dado in one of the four tearooms. Meditation classes and the use of tearooms are free for guests.
Riding the wave
Surfing is a popular activity at Iho Tewoo Beach on Jeju Island. (Airbnb)
Though surfing may sound like too much fun to be part of a sustainable tourism experience, the water sport is one way to experience eco-tourism in an adrenaline-fueling way.
Jeju Island is a sought-after surfer’s destination as waves come in from all directions. If the waves are not high enough on one beach, surfers can catch a big wave at another beach less than an hour’s drive away.
Responsible surfing means not only keeping the beach clean, but also respecting local communities and contributing to sustainable development as the presence of surfers can raise housing costs and drive local residents out of their neighborhoods.
Making pottery with a local artist
Artist Jin Park hands out clay to participants at his one-day pottery class near Pyoseon Beach, Jeju Island. (Im Eun-byel / The Korea Herald)
Jeju Island is home to many artists who are originally from the mainland, as artists looking for a homey retreat away from crowded cities have settled on the pristine island.
Jin Park, previously a hotel chef, moved to Jeju Island a few years ago. After he was diagnosed with cancer, he took up pottery as a new profession, believing the change would be good for his health.
Having made a full recovery, Park runs daily pottery classes at his studio, where participants get to make plates by hand as part of Airbnb Experiences.
Participants can also practice resin art, making ornaments out of seashells they have picked up on Jeju’s beaches.
‘Haenyeo’ dining experience
Kwon Young-hee, 88, speaks of her experience as a woman diver at Haenyeo’s Kitchen in Gujwa-eup, Jeju Island. (Im Eun-byel / The Korea Herald)
Though Jeju Island’s “haenyeo” culture has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage, to this day not many truly understand what it is like to live the life of a haenyeo.
Jeju Island is home to a large number of these women, who dive for seafood off its coast.
Kim Ha-won, who studied theater at the Korea National University of Arts, was shocked that seafood caught by haenyeo was being sold at prices lower than farmed seafood.
To invigorate the local haenyeo culture, Kim founded Haenyeo’s Kitchen, a social dining culture complex for which reservations can be made through Airbnb Experiences. There guests can watch a play about haenyeo, enjoy dishes created by haenyeo and talk with the women divers.
By Im Eun-byel (firstname.lastname@example.org
) The writer participated in a press trip arranged by Airbnb on Jeju Island in August. -- Ed.