How often and long have Korean tourism marketers been calling Jeju Island “The Hawaii of Korea”? Consistently I think, but only since the mid-1980s. The formal “sister state” relationship between Jeju Island and Hawaii was negotiated in 1986. A major mover and shaker in the formal bonding between the two islands was James Shon, Representative Hawaii State Legislator, 1984-1996.
I knew him as “Jim” when we both served on Jeju Island as Peace Corps Volunteers. He had been on the island since 1969. When I arrived in February of 1973 Jim was just finishing up his fourth year of service. He left Jeju that May and moved on to the University of Hawaii, to earn a PhD in political science and long-term care. He eventually entered into politics and is presently director of the Hawaii Education Policy Center.
While helping to roll out the 1986 sister-state relationship Jim helped promote the first interdisciplinary Jeju Island studies symposiums that explored learning from Hawaii as a model for achieving economic success on Jeju Island through tourism development. The First Social Development Institute International Seminar occurred on Jeju Island on June 30 to July 1, 1986. Participants were instructed to focus on the similarities and differences between Jeju Island and Hawaii, with regard to tourism and its growth potential.
Two of the invited participants at this Seminar were Professor Forrest R. “Woody” Pitts of the University of Hawaii and Professor Frederick H. Dustin of Jeju National University. “Woody” is an academic geographer of high repute. Fred as all JWW readers are aware is retired from university teaching and owns and operates the world famous Kimnyoung Maze Park on Jeju Island, and resides nearby.
Woody, a Koreanist throughout his career, was the long-time editor of Korean Studies, a top-ranked journal published by the University of Hawaii. We began corresponding when I began to research and publish some of my critical researches on the negative impacts of the walking tractor (hand tractor) on traditional Jeju Island agricultural landscape and life. Woody at that time (circa 1980) was well-known in Korea as the “Father of the walking tractor” for his active role in promoting its introduction and spread throughout South Korea. I first met Woody in California, shortly after his retirement from the University of Hawaii. We continue to correspond.
I met Fred Dustin a decade earlier on Jeju Island (JWW essays # 15-17, “The China Smith of Jeju Island”) It is worth noting today, in 2013, what these two experts had to say about the “Hawaii Model” and Jeju Island tourism development potential back in 1986. Fortuitously, their presentations were preserved and published in 1987 by Jeju National University, along with several other papers from the Seminar, in Volume 3 of the Social Development Review.
Professor Pitts’ published presentation article in Social Development Review (pages 477-495) is titled “Hawaii and Cheju as Natural and Living Museums for Tourists.” He begins by reminding his readers that the tourism boom in Hawaii began with the first commercial jet airplane flight to Honolulu in 1958, then points out that the first organized tour bringing Western tourists from Seoul to Jeju occurred that same year.
His comparisons of the two islands begin with shared physical features and factors; how for example both islands are volcanic and composed of basalt rock “into which rain and snowmelt run and tend to disappear.” He details the shared volcanic features that appeal to tourists in Hawaii are those same that would appeal to tourists on Jeju Island: towering majesty of the high volcano, crater lake, cinder cones, and so on. Pitts concludes “Certainly [Jeju] could attract scientific tourists in comparative volcanic phenomena, given target marketing.”
He moves on to note the similarities of rare black sand beaches in both places, then discusses the accessibility of lava tubes as mass tourist destinations in Hawaii and potentially Jeju. He also sends a cautionary warning about their fragile ecosystems. He discusses the potential for sports fishery tourism along the Jeju coast and suggests annual fishing contests be considered for Jeju tourists. He wonders if the Jeju coastline can support a marketable board surfing experience for the tourist trade.
Woody suggests that the history of early Western explorers and travelers, as in Hawaii, may be colorful enough to justify the marketing and construction of monuments, museums and perhaps even some special commemorative holidays to educate and entertain potential tourists. He cites commemoration of Hendrick Hamel’s shipwreck as an exploitable example.
The rich cultural traditions of the Jeju Islanders have great potential to inform successful marketing strategies aimed at increasing tourism. Dr. Pitts suggests the construction of culture centers and folk villages based on successful precedents in Hawaii. Adding assorted cultural heritage events to the calendar that involve music, dance and crafts are another of his recommendations based on proved successful examples of Hawaiian marketing initiatives. Woody also envisions exploiting the appeal of Jeju ponies as part of an imaginative Mongol-era heritage tourism promotion.
He sees mass tourist appeal of farmers and periodic markets, but warns that this is a bad idea if rest room facilities are not adequate. Related to this is the lessons Hawaiians have learned about developing a mass tourism industry without due attention to the fresh water availability to support or sustain the industry. Local potable water shortages triggering water rationing within and beyond tourist destinations in Hawaii should be anticipated also in a Jeju Island strategic tourism development plan.
Dr. Pitts acknowledges the beauty and appeal of the flowering plants throughout both Hawaii and Jeju Island, and the need for providing tourists access to such beautiful destinations at appropriate times throughout the year. He writes “It is true that some tourists are content to buy colored picture postcards at a hotel, but the more adventuresome tourist lady would prefer to snap a photograph at the actual spot, or to be photographed there with a flowery background.” If Woody could enjoy accessing the entire island via Jeju’s Olle trails, he would be happily astonished at his powers of prophecy.
He also suggests what activities might be marketed on Jeju to appeal to a rugged male demographic in addition to sports fishing. Hunting pheasant, wrestling matches and steak cookouts (perhaps he is thinking here of Hawaii’s big outdoor barbeques with hula girls, fire dancers and such).
He wraps up his suggestions with a provocative list of appropriate items invested with Jeju Island identity that tourists might prefer. Fur coats, anyone? He also rails against billboards and shares a story about how long it took and what a fight it was for Hawaiians to finally rid their islands of unsightly signage. He pleads with Jeju Islanders to preserve their authentic indigenous language, for it also has tourism potential. Finally he recommends that Jeju Province and the State of Hawaii seek out a carefully planned sister island relationship. Of course this was already in the works and in fact achieved in the same year of his presentation.
Surprisingly, Dr. Pitts had nothing to say in his article about the potential of tourism promotion involving the traditional diving women of Jeju Island. Perhaps it was too obvious to mention. Also, there is no diving woman tradition in the “Hawaii Model.” Could it be that Hawaii tourism development marketers have something to learn from a “Jeju Model” ?
Professor Dustin’s 1986 published presentation article in Social Development Review (pages 526-539) is titled “Avenues to Cooperation for Regional Development between Cheju and Hawaii.” It is a gutsy manifesto for its time and a challenge to government bureaucracy to deliver on its promises, by boldly exploring new paths in Jeju tourism development appropriate to new priorities and opportunities.
Fred begins with a timely reference to the Cheju Comprehensive Development Plan released in 1985 (the year previous) which asserts that 1) the development of successful national tourism will be the basis to attract international tourists and 2) regional development will be promoted through the development of tourism. Fred’s response to these priorities is to insist that islanders should support future tourism development on Jeju Island from that point forward with a new spirit of self-empowering aggressive entrepreneurship motivated by their desire “for self-sufficiency, self-management and self-pride.” Otherwise government monopoly will readily substitute its own power for public apathy, filling any void in public initiative.
The article has little to say about Hawaiian cooperation per se except to assume that Hawaii: 1) has the potential to lend Jeju expertise in tourism development; 2) is willing to share it; and 3) will come up with the necessary and sufficient venture capital to stimulate success. Fred sets a priority for implementation of the development plan through increased intellectual exchanges between scholars and scientists in participating higher education institutions. He emphasizes the importance of English-language instruction those working in the tourist industry on Jeju Island. He would like to have locals rather than outsiders qualifying to fill the skilled positions in the tourism workforce as they open. He reiterates the importance of “big investments” to accomplish the goals of the ambitious Jeju Island tourism development plan.
His general arguments digress into specific types of “participation attractions” for tourists that will employ local human resources: yachting/cruising; fishing; the Jeju pony and pony trekking; the dude ranch. There is some obvious overlap here between Fred’s suggestions and the specific tourism potentials suggested for Jeju Island by Woody Pitts. It was around 1986 that he and the Scotsman Murray DeNoon (a government agricultural extension advisor in the employ of Great Britain) hit upon the idea of a recreational maze as a tourist attraction.
The final paragraphs in Professor Dustin’s presentation article appear in the sub-section “Tourism as an Instrument in Political Reform.” Here Fred describes a global trend toward democratization. He argues again the virtues of self-reliance and entrepreneurship underlying local economic development fostered by elected bodies sworn to achieving the public good and resisting corruption. He notes that local public and governmental civic duty demands a democratic and efficient plan to achieve and maintain local economic and environmental sustainability, and in that context cites contested tourism development issues in Mt. Halla National Park in support of his arguments.
He concludes by noting that the Jeju tourism industry began in a quagmire of unrealizable goals spawned by unrealistic policies, but that conditions have changed with the implementation of the 1985 Cheju Tourism Development Plan. My visit to Jeju Island a few months ago demonstrates to me that Jim Shon, Woody Pitts, Fred Dustin and Murray DeNoon were all major yet mostly unsung contributors to the gradual inception and implementation of the Cheju Comprehensive Development Plan. I am proud to have known such intelligent men of vision and to have had this opportunity to sing their praises.