Fewer visitors go to Gyeongju after quakes

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Fewer visitors go to Gyeongju after quakes

Since powerful earthquakes hit the region in September, tourists are no longer favoring the historic city of Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, severely impacting the local economy.

Gyeongju, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla, has long been one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations for its rich cultural heritage and architecture. Two large earthquakes of magnitudes 5.1 and 5.8 struck the Unesco World Heritage Site in North Gyeongsang on Sept. 12. The 5.8-magnitude quake was the largest since 1978, when the government started monitoring seismic activity. Since then, more than 400 aftershocks were observed in the city in the following weeks.

According to the North Gyeongsang provincial and Gyeongju City governments, 570,000 tourists visited the city last month, 47 percent down from the same period last year.

Major travel plans were canceled, too. New Life Cosmetics of China canceled its planned three-day trip to send 2,000 sales representatives in November. Amway Korea also canceled its event, scheduled for early this month, for which it had planned to invite 1,500 workers to the city’s convention center.

The city government also said school field trips have disappeared. From January to May, 360,000 students from 520 schools visited the city, and about 200,000 were scheduled to visit from September to early November, but most of the schools have canceled their field trips due to the fear of earthquakes. “In the aftermath of the earthquakes,” said Lee Sang-young, a Gyeongju city official in charge of tourism and convention, “the regional tourist industry suffered more than 17 billion won ($15.3 billion) in losses last month alone.”

The province and the city started a campaign to revive the tourist industry on Sept. 20, visiting the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism as well as major media and business lobby groups to explain their difficulties and seek support.

The city also sent officials to education offices nationwide to bring back student field trips. Special discounts were offered at luxury hotels in the city and free admission was offered at some historic sites. Local country clubs are also giving discounts.

These efforts are slowly bringing back some tourists. Daereungwon Tomb Complex in the city had 4,000 visitors on Oct. 1 and 2, the first weekend of this month, and the number is about the same as in previous years. Last month, only 870 visited the tourist attraction during the weekends.

But the path to recovery has been fraught with challenges, and the city was struck by a powerful typhoon earlier this month.

Two residents were killed and 53 houses, 28 factories and 59 cars were destroyed. Since Oct. 4, more than 1,000 public servants, soldiers and volunteers are working on restoration projects each day.

“The Ministry of Public Safety and Security conducted safety reviews of 39 major accommodations in the city until Oct. 3, and all of them were safe,” said Saenuri Rep. Kim Seok-ki, representing Gyeongju. “Restoration works are ongoing for the earthquakes and typhoon damage, but tourist attractions remain open.”

BY KIM YOON-HO [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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