April 19, 2024

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Jeju Island considers introducing eco-tourism tax

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Visitors walk along a seaside road in Seogwipo in southern Jeju Island while canola flowers are in full bloom, Thursday. Yonhap

Visitors walk along a seaside road in Seogwipo in southern Jeju Island while canola flowers are in full bloom, Thursday. Yonhap

By Lee Hae-rin

The southern resort island of Jeju is pushing to impose a so-called eco-tourism tax on visitors to curb the adverse effects of tourism such as environmental damage.

On Thursday, Jeju Special Self-Governing Province revealed a report by the Korea Environment Institute (KEI) about action plans to impose a share of expenses for the preservation of the island’s environment onto visitors.

The report suggests imposing 1,500 won ($1.10) per capita per night for accommodation, 5,000 won per rented vehicle a day and 5 percent of chartered bus fees as a green tax — a price scheme recommended in a 2018 study by the Korean Association for Local Finance on the validity of the island imposing the eco-tourism tax.

According to the scenario, a group of four people who spend three nights and four days on the island with a rented car will be taxed 38,000 won.

Under the scheme, the revenue generated by the tax would be used to solve the island’s growing pollution and sewage issues and protect natural resources from an influx of over 10 million annual visitors.

The report stated that the potential introduction of the tax would be a first for Korea, although similar taxes are already common in other popular destinations around the world including cities in Europe, saying the tax measure should be actively considered.

It cited the “benefit principle” under the country’s Framework Act on Environmental Policy as a legal basis for the measure. The act states that “When a person gains significant benefits from a project for environmental conservation, the state or a local government may require the person who gains benefits to fully or partially bear the cost of the project for environmental conservation within the limit of such benefits.”

The report also highlighted Jeju’s nature as a unique eco-tourism destination and the budgetary deficit it suffers while tourism has become a major source of pollution on the island.

The tourism-dependent island contains Korea’s first UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site — Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes — and other internationally recognized biosphere reserves, yet ranks bottom among municipalities in terms of regional economy.

Organizers of the 2021 Jeju World Heritage Festival and journalists follow a walking trail known as the “Breath of Fire Trail,” during a press tour held to promote the festival, July 9, 2021. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

Organizers of the 2021 Jeju World Heritage Festival and journalists follow a walking trail known as the “Breath of Fire Trail,” during a press tour held to promote the festival, July 9, 2021. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

Additionally, the report suggested the island form a coalition with municipalities such as Gangwon Province and Ulleung Island, which may later need to introduce similar taxation systems.

Since 2018, several European countries including Italy, Greece and Spain have introduced their own green tax systems to prevent overtourism from harming the environment and causing gentrification.

Last month, Bali introduced a 150,000 rupiah ($10) tax on tourists upon their arrival, and lawmakers of Hawaii proposed a $25 climate tax on tourists.

Maldives and some regions of Japan and Australia have joined the initiative.

The tourism-dependent Jeju has also seen multiple efforts to legislate a similar tax since 2012, which have all failed under multiple names, including “tourism tax,” “environment tax,” “share of expenses” and “contribution fee,” due to opposition from various stakeholders who view it as an island entrance fee.

The green tax initiative reemerged in the 2022 presidential election as a pledge by both of the main parties’ candidates, Yoon Suk Yeol and Lee Jae-myung, as well as by incumbent Jeju Governor Oh Young-hun who has been pushing to introduce the system.

Dolhareubang, or Stone Grandpas, iconic shamanistic stone statues of Jeju Island made of igneous rock, stand in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, Feb. 29. Yonhap

Dolhareubang, or Stone Grandpas, iconic shamanistic stone statues of Jeju Island made of igneous rock, stand in Seogwipo, Jeju Island, Feb. 29. Yonhap

However, there are concerns that the eco-tourism tax would deter local tourists from visiting the southern island, as many Koreans have already shown an increasing preference for overseas trips after the post-pandemic reopening of borders and low value of the Japanese yen.

According to the Jeju Tourism Organization’s latest visitor survey from 2022, high travel expenses ranked top at 53.4 percent among Koreans’ reasons to be unhappy with their visits to Jeju, as they can visit Southeast Asian countries and other regional destinations at similar expenses spent for Jeju trips.

The number of domestic visitors to the resort island dropped to 12.6 million last year, down 8.5 percent from 13.8 million in 2022. Meanwhile, Koreans’ outbound tourism jumped from 6.5 million in 2022 to 22.7 million last year.

The report will be discussed on March 25 at the island’s provincial assembly, which seeks to launch legislative efforts to amend the Jeju Special Act once the 22nd National Assembly kicks off after the general elections in April.


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