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Inter-Korean border tourist sites see unprecedented numbers

The annual number of tourists to the inter-Korean border sites in Paju, Gyeonggi-do (Gyeonggi Province) surpassed 600,000 people for the first time this past year.

According to the Paju City Government, approximately 603,000 tourists visited the areas bordering the demilitarization zone (DMZ) and the northern district of the civilian control zone in 2011.

Tourists at Mt. Dorasan Observation Deck take in a view of North Korea (Photo: Yonhap News).

Compared to the relatively minimal increase in the number of tourists in years past, 2010 and 2011 saw this number rise dramatically. Approximately 417,000 tourists were recorded in 2007, followed by 435,000 in 2008, then 446,000 in 2009. In marked contrast, over 513,000 people filed into the area in 2010, and the number increased by nearly 100,000 more people within the next year.

The Paju City Government assesses that the growth in tourists corresponds to the resurgence of international and domestic interest in security issues on the Korean Peninsula following the Cheonan Incident in March 2010 and the shelling of Yeonpyeongdo (Yeonpyeong Island) in November 2010.

The civilian control zone and related “Peace and Security Tourist Spots,” as designated by Paju City, have attracted a large number of foreign tourists in particular. In 2011, 285,000 foreign tourists visited the area, more than double the 130,000 that arrived in 2007. Paralleling overall tourist growth, the period from 2007 to 2009 saw narrow growth margins compared to more recent years.

Dorasan Station, as the northernmost station on the Gyeongui Railroad Line, once connected North and South Korea (Photo: Jon Dunbar).

Tourists from China comprise approximately 80% of the foreigners who visit the inter-Korean border sites, with many Chinese considering a trek to the area one of three must-do activities in Korea, the others being a trip to Jeju Island and shopping in Seoul.

In contrast to the rapid growth of foreign tourists, the number of domestic tourists in 2011 clocked in at 318,000 people and showed a relatively small increase of about 11% since 2007.

“Our tourist facilities are admittedly in need of renovation, but we are working on their reinforcement, in addition to addressing any safety concerns,” said Chung Dong-yun of the Culture and Tourism Division of Paju. “With continued investment, we can look forward to the year of one million tourists.”

Revenues from tourism at the inter-Korean border, which hovered around 1.9 billion to 2.1 billion won from 2007 to 2009, surpassed 2.5 billion won within the past two years.

As the only place along the armistice line where South Korea and North Korea can make contact, Panmunjeom is has been the site for inter-Korean dialogue and military meetings. Officially known as the Joint Security Area, the 800 square meter area centers around the military demarcation line and is defended by soldiers from both sides (Photo: Jon Dunbar).

The official tourist course in the northern district of the civilian control zone includes the Third Infiltration Tunnel, Mt. Dorasan Observation Deck, Dorasan Station, Unification Park, the burial site of Joseon court physician Heo Jun, Haemaru Village, and Panmunjeom.

The Paju City Government and Gyeonggi-do Provincial Government are currently in consultation with military authorities regarding the construction of an additional observation deck and a new monorail to link the different sites. Also under consideration is the possibility of opening a historical site where North Korean and Chinese soldiers were buried during the Korean War.

More information on tourism in the inter-Korean border region can be found at the official DMZ website (http://dmz.gg.go.kr/index.asp, Korean, English, Chinese, Japanese) and the Paju City Government website (http://en.paju.go.kr/en/en_culture/en_peace/en_peace_imjingak/en_peace_imjingak.cms, Korean, English, Chinese, Japanese).

By Kwon Jungyun
Korea.net Staff Writer

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