By Kim Rahn
Jeju Island made the list of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in a worldwide poll organized by the Swiss-based organization New7Wonders Foundation.
The foundation announced the final winners at 4:07 a.m., Saturday (KST) on its website.
Thousands of Jeju residents were waiting for the result in an auditorium and erupted in cheers at the news, with many shedding tears and embracing each other in jubilation.
The government expects the listing will create 1.2 trillion won ($10.6 billion) worth of additional economic benefits per year through tourism and higher international recognition of the country.
I’m so glad that I’m almost speechless. I appreciate support from the people of the country,” Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Governor Woo Keun-min said. “Through almost four years of voting where 1 billion people around the world took part, Jeju has already been gaining recognition. The listing will open a new chapter for the island in terms of not only tourism but also in every other sector.”
Jeju was chosen along with the Amazon in Brazil, Halong Bay in Vietnam, Iguazu Falls in Argentina, Komodo National Park in Indonesia, Puerto Princesa Underground River in the Philippines and Table Mountain in South Africa. They beat 21 other candidates through voting conducted through the Internet and via phone from July 2009 to Nov. 11 this year.
The southern resort island has already been designated as a World Natural Heritage Site, a global geopark and a biosphere reserve by UNESCO.
Woo said the island will develop tourism programs highlighting the new seven wonders inclusion and the three UNESCO designations. “We will also seek cooperation with the six other new wonders,” he said.
In celebration of the result, visitors to 25 tourist locations on the island will be allowed free access through the end of the year.
The authorities expect the designation will boost worldwide recognition of the island, bring more tourists here, and enhance the country’s reputation.
The Jeju Development Institute presumed the annual number of foreign tourists to Jeju will increase by more than 70 percent and that of domestic tourists, by about 9 percent.
Chung Un-chan, chairman of the National Committee for Jeju New7Wonders of Nature, also expected huge revenue from tourism.
“The selection has given Korea a new image of natural attraction rather than those of rapid industrialization or division into south and north,” he said. “Jeju will become a world famous tourist destination.”
To maximize the effect of the vote, the provincial government will talk with the Presidential Council on Nation Branding on how to promote it, and develop programs to protect and promote Korea’s natural environment with the central and other local governments.
It will also request for a larger airport to be built on the island earlier than planned.
But some doubt whether the foundation is credible and the poll was fair.
Rep. Lee Yong-kyung of the Creative Korea Party previously said the poll was likely to be a fraudulent, lucrative business for the foundation. “Indonesia and Maldives said the foundation demanded huge money from them, moving them to withdraw their designated sites from the poll. But the government and Jeju are spending money on the campaign without trying to confirm the truth about the foundation,” he said.
Citizens also point out that the foundation didn’t reveal the details of the final result of the vote. They also claimed Jeju was not actually supported by people around the world but only Koreans repeatedly voted for the island.
“It is said that Jeju provincial government officials were ordered to vote dozens of times per person per day. We can’t say it was a fair competition,” said a blogger named “a person who lives in Jeju.”