As part of its efforts to promote ecotourism in Daebu island, Ansan city organized a fam tour for foreign residents in Korea on Oct. 26, 2019.
It can be sometimes challenging to promote a fragile and vulnerable ecosystem such as an island, when the least thing you want is to see it become a mass tourism destination. Nonetheless, sustainable tourism is definitely a powerful tool for local development and community empowerment, and a smart marketing strategy can help target and attract the right people: those who care and are equipped to co-create a sustainable, fair and responsible experiences with the locals.
Within the framework of its project to develop ecotourism in Daebudo (Daebu island), the tourism department of Ansan city, South Korea, organized a fam tour (familiarization tour) for foreign residents in South Korea on Oct. 26, 2019. Millennium Hikers, the international community of walkers and hikers founded by Millennium Destinations was invited to part of it.
Once called “the Hawaii of Ansan” and now dubbed “the Treasure Island”, Daebudo has been praised for its beautiful landscapes and has kept the appeal and characteristics of an island even if it is now linked to the Ansan mainland through the Sihwa seawall. With several thousand visitors per day day during peak season, Daebudo has indeed become a popular destination for Koreans, and particularly families or anyone looking for a beautiful, quiet and exotic escape. Many people, and particularly photographers, visit Daebudo and surrounding islands as top spots to watch the sunset. On the other hand, most visits to Daebudo usually do not last more than one day and the island does not seem to attract many foreign tourists or foreigners living in Korea, if we refer to the number of mentions on the Internet and in social networks.
Moreover, Daebudo has not been promoted as strongly as Ansan and/or is not perceived as an ecotourism or nature-based destination, even if Daebudo and Daesong wetland in Ansan have been designated as eco-tour zones by the Korean Ministry of Environment in 2014, together with Sanmakyi old trail and Lake Goesan in Goesan, Gasiyeon wetland and Lake Gyeongpo in Gangneung, Hyodon stream and Haryeli village in Seogwipo and Gochang dolmen.
According to researches, ecotourism is still considered a niche market but it has developed steadily over the past years. The market demand for ecotourism has been largely centered in the western world, mostly English-speaking countries, but more and more ecotourists are now coming from other regions such as the Asian Tigers.
For many ecotourists, the main motivation is the inherent quality of the landscape and wildlife of the destination, together with the opportunity to meet local people and experience cultural traditions and lifestyles. Many of them like to take photos and are even professional photographers. This is the case for more and more birdwatchers. Some ecotourists are looking for complementary activities such as hiking, cycling, etc.
In South Korea, outdoor and leisure / leports (leisure and sports) activities have become more and more popular. There are over 15 million regular hikers in South Korea and biking / cycling has developed recently. In general, a growing public interest in ecotourism has been reported in Korea.
Regarding Daebudo, it seems that tourism marketing efforts have been more focused on domestic visitors, and short term visits. Due to its characteristics, the island may compete with similar ecotourism destinations, in Korea or not, that are better known and/or or promoted, such as Suncheon Bay, which has become a renowned ecological tourism destination even among foreigners. Having said that, competition may become an opportunity if synergies and partnership can be created with those similar destinations.
The Ecotour in Daebu island designed by Ansan city included the following experiences:
Millennium Destinations provided its support to the project for the marketing and communication strategy and through arranging a diverse group of around 40 "Millennium Hikers", expats living in Korea and Koreans from different backgrounds (diplomats, professionals, professors, consultants, students, social media influencers, etc. ).
According to the results of the post-tour survey, all participants have been either very satisfied or satisfied with their experience in Daebu island, mudflat walking and interacting with the locals being their favorite activities. Conversely, foreign participants expressed their need for more information and interpretation in English (at least).
In any case, Ecotourism products in Daebudo should focus on protected areas as focal points. They should also intend to include experiences and activities that would contribute to reduce overcrowding and seasonality. Promotion activities should consider the carrying capacity of the island and should be carried out in concertation with the local residents.