The Korea Herald


Yeosu grows as top tourist spot with its citizens

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : July 30, 2017 - 17:02

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South Korea’s southern port city of Yeosu is a place where nature and cutting-edge technology come together.

The 2012 World Expo was the historic city’s turning point, shaping it into a tourist destination. 

Gaedo Island is one of 365 small islands that surround Yeosu. Yeosu Gaedo Island is one of 365 small islands that surround Yeosu. Yeosu

The city attracted about 13 million tourists annually in both 2015 and 2016, according to government data.

Citizen-centered government

The city’s Mayor Ju Cheol-hyeon has been working toward establishing a more citizen-centered governing system. The Committee of 100 Yeosu Residents was formed as a watchdog for the city’s expanding projects and businesses when Ju took office three years ago.

“The committee of 100 citizens has been ‘filtering’ necessary policies through the perspectives of citizens since I took office three years ago,” said Ju.

The system is based on his belief that the “citizens are the mayors themselves,” which highlights the trust and partnership between the city government and Yeosu residents.

The committee members can contribute to rural development throughout their term -- one year per citizen. 

Yeosu City Mayor Ju Cheol-hyeon. Yeosu Yeosu City Mayor Ju Cheol-hyeon. Yeosu

“The committee’s system and support brought transparency to the city’s decision-making process and a noticeable cutback in civil complaints,” added Ju.

Yeosu, which means “beautiful water,” was a sleepy coastal town until the 2012 World Expo, which spawned big-scale attractions such as the 16,400-square-meter Aqua Planet aquarium. About 288,000 residents currently reside in the town that is quickly evolving into one of South Korea’s top tourist destinations.

Technology and development have swept across the city, but it has struggled to adjust to the sudden change. The city reported that its accommodation options have expanded from 19 venues in 2014 to 88 this year.

Overpriced food and poor customer service are the two core complaints that Ju has prioritized to solve.

The mayor launched a team dedicated to food sanitation and a 200-member panel that reviews and rates local hotels and restaurants.

In addition, service sector operators with high ratings are endorsed by Yeosu for promotion, while others are strongly encouraged to perform better.

This led to a drop in civilian complaints from 169 in 2015 to 94 in 2016, according to Yeosu’s metropolitan government.

“Citizens are the true minds behind the city government, but there wasn’t enough room for them to participate before,” Ju said.

“To overcome this issue, we decided to create more room for community participation and we are currently experiencing its results after it led to the development of the area.”

Summer attractions

The southernmost city of South Jeolla Province came into the global spotlight when it hosted the 2012 World Expo. The city’s landscape created synergy with the event’s theme, “the sea that lives and the coast that breathes.”

The summer expo promoted 105 nations and 10 international organizations. It attracted 82 million visitors before it wrapped up in August 2012.
A nighttime view of Yeosu. Yeosu A nighttime view of Yeosu. Yeosu

Its success opened smoother transportation routes to the city along with the high-speed rail KTX from Seoul to Yeosu Expo Station. The station is located within walking distance to major tourist attractions.

The city is also gearing up to use its geographical and cultural assets this summer to attract visitors.

Tourists can go sightseeing in cable cars that glide above waters, giving them an aerial view of the ocean. A rail bike trail that extends 3.5 kilometers along breezy mountains is an immersive experience that allows users to connect with nature.

Yeosu’s annual fireworks festival will be held from Aug. 11-12 at Jongpo Maritime Park, also known as Adm. Yi Sun-sin square.

Launched last year, the program drew 260,000 tourists and boasted nighttime views of the city’s seashores.

Along with its fireworks show, the city plans to host a busking festival from Friday to Sunday on stages installed across Jongpo Park. It has been cultivating a reputation as a popular busking spot after the release of the popular song “Nightscape at Yeosu Seashore” by indie band Busker Busker in 2012.

A small-scale beer festival and art markets will complement the main festival.

For hungry festivalgoers, the city takes pride in its food street full of “pocha,” or street vendors selling snacks and alcohol. They mainly serve seafood dishes.

The history of the city is also hard to ignore. Its nearby waters were a fierce battleground between Korea and Japan in the 16th century. Adm. Yi Sun-sin, who is revered as one of the greatest military leaders here, led the naval force with tactics that blocked Japanese invasion.

By Jung Min-kyung (