Friday marks the first anniversary since the Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes became the first in Korea to be named to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Thanks to the international media attention it has received since last year, Jeju Island is enjoying publicity beyond its expectations. Detailed descriptions of the island are listed on the maps, magazines and the homepage of UNESCO, and leading global networks such as the BBC, Mainichi Broadcasting System, Asahi Shimbun, and Al Jazeera have introduced Jeju's heritage to their viewers. And officials from around the world come to Jeju to learn how it managed to get listed on the UNESCO Natural Heritage List. Officials from the Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures in Japan, who are trying to get Mt. Fuji listed, visited Jeju last month. Officials from the Japanese city of Kinokawa, Wakayama Prefecture, a sister city of Seogwipo, the second largest city on the island, came for the same reason.
The listing has changed the tourism trend. Although the growth rate in the number of tourists to the entire island remains at 6-7 percent, the number of travelers to the three heritage zones -- Mt. Hallasan, Seongsan Ilchulbong Tuff Cone, and the Geomunoreum Lava Tubes -- is rising by 13 to 30 percent. The number of foreign travelers also rose by 52.5 percent from 81,779 May last year to 124,770 this May. There are three big categories in the UNESCO heritage listing -- World Heritage (Natural, Cultural, and Mixed), Biosphere Reserves, and World Geopark. Prior to being named as UNESCO World Natural Heritage, Jeju had Mt. Hallasan and the Seogwipo coastal area designated as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Dec. 2002. Now, it is aiming to win all three honors by becoming a World Geopark too. Being included in the global network of geoparks will put the island to be on par with the world's most famous destinations. The Jeju provincial government already formed a taskforce team last year involving experts from various fields and is currently selecting candidate areas for the geopark. To be a UNESCO World Geopark, the region must not only be beautiful but also have high geological, biological, archeological, historical, and cultural values. There are currently over 50 geoparks around the world, including the Petrified Forest in Yunnan Province, China.