A group of Thai tourists pose for a photo at the redwood tree lane on Nami Island, Gangwon in May of this year. The number of foreign visitors in 2012 exceeded the 500,000 mark Sunday, according to Nami Island Inc., a drastic jump from around 30,000 overseas visitors in 2002. Provided by Nami Island Inc.
Nami Island, located in Chuncheon, Gangwon, and widely known as Winter Sonata Island, has emerged as one of the must-visit places among foreign tourists in the country, with a growing number of them visiting the island.
The half-moon-shaped island first drew attention from international tourists, mainly Japanese, as the location was used to film the drama “Winter Sonata,” which was a mega-hit in Japan in the early 2000s.
Nami Island, first formed in 1944 as a result of the construction of the Cheongpyeong Dam, offers 553,560 square yards of chestnut trees and poplar trees and open grass areas. A theme park with merry-go-rounds, a roller skating rink and a shooting range are also available to visitors. There are also attractions on the island that signify notable scenes from Winter Sonata, such as the redwood tree lane and the spot where the couple had their first kiss.
Nami Island Inc., a tourism company that owns and manages the island, reported yesterday 503,000 foreign visitors came to the island as of Sunday, one-fourth of the 2.2 million visitors in total for 2012.
The number of foreign visitors is the largest for a single tourist location for non-Korean speaking travelers, in part thanks to booming Korean pop culture popularity around the world.
The number is a drastic jump from the visitors recorded four years ago, which stood at 170,189. The number gradually increased over the recent years to reach the 500,000 mark Sunday as it posted 332,244 and 419,452 multiethnic travelers to the island in 2010 and 2011.
Tourists from Thailand make up the largest proportion of the international tourist group to the island with 164,000, followed by Taiwan with 104,000 and mainland China with 82,000.
The surge in the number of Thai tourists to the island is attributed to the choices by Southeast Asia filmmakers to film there, including the Thai movie “Hello Stranger,” released in 2010.
“We have an average of three to four couples from Southeast Asia who take wedding photos on the island every day,” said Kim Hyun-sik, director of the strategy team of Nami Inc.
The company attributes the island’s success in attracting foreign visitors to its measures set in place, specifically aiming for non-Korean speaking tourists.
Prayer centers exclusively designed for Muslim visitors and tour guides fluent in foreign languages such as Japanese and Thai are among the installments and accommodations courting foreigners. The company also runs shuttle buses designed for overseas tourists from another renowned tourist location, Insa-dong, in central Seoul, to the island every morning to make it more convenient for travelers.
A total of 12,000 Japanese visited the island this year, making up a 4 percent share of the total 500,000, a drop from 2005 when over 100,000 tourists from the neighboring country visited the island.
“The number of Japanese visitors has gradually decreased over recent years as the fame surrounding Winter Sonata waned,” said Jung Taek-geun, official at the tourism firm. Jung added “with no subsequent Korean dramas featuring the island becoming a hit in Japan,” it is “deemed natural for the reduction in the number.”
The island is also known as the Naminara Republic after having declared its own “cultural independence.”
By Kang Jin-kyu [email@example.com]