From golden goose to gulping hippo
The author is the Busan bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Local governments around the world competed to build ocean cable cars, starting with Tongyeong City, South Gyeongsang, thinking it was the goose laying golden eggs.
The first warning came when Tongyeong Cable Car, which started a nationwide boom, had less than 1 million passengers last year for the first time. Since it started its operations in April 2008, the ocean cable car era opened. After attracting 590,514 passengers in the first year, the cable car wrote a success story with 1.2 to 1.3 million passengers each year. The accumulated number of passengers surpassed 10 million in April 2016, and the record was made in 2017 with 1.4 million passengers.
However, the trend took a downturn for the first time in 2018, with barely over 1 million passengers. Last year, the 1 million mark was not reached — with 904,324. A Tongyeong city official said that the number of passengers dropped as cable cars were installed one after another across the country.
In fact, the Songdo Ocean Cable Car in Busan — which followed the Tongyeong model — had a decline in the number of passengers last year for the first time. It opened in June 2017 and attracted 950,000 passengers in half a year, and in 2018, 1.2 million passengers rode the cable car. But the number dropped to 1.12 million last year. Yeosu Ocean Cable Car, which opened in December 2014, had 1.85 million passengers in 2018, but last year, the number decreased to 1.66 million. The city of Yeosu made a similar diagnosis. A city official said that other attractions need to be incorporated to attract visitors who had been on the cable car.
The problem is that local governments that started the boom, including Tongyeong, are struggling with declining passengers. Yet a boom to build more cable cars is still heated. More than 50 new cable cars are being built or planned nationwide, such as in Geoje and Hadong County in South Gyeongsang. Experts say that if too many cable cars are built without additional local attractions, an overall decline in the number of passengers is inevitable.
They all advise that the 20th century tourism trend of attracting tourists just by building something special is over. If they don’t think about what else to offer now, the geese laying golden eggs can turn into hippopotami gulping taxpayers’ money.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 4, Page 27