Incheon Metropolitan City is aiming to become a hub for “peace and future tourism” by building a tourism belt on the West Sea that is connected to Kaeseong and Haeju of North Korea.
Incheon Mayor Park Nam-chun unveiled the city’s ambitious plan at a meeting on the nation's tourism strategy chaired by President Moon Jae-in. The meeting, held in Songdo, Incheon, was attended by some 150 people including heads of 16 local government organizations and representative of the tourism industry.
"We plan to create a ‘Korean Peninsula peace and future tourism belt’ based on the city’s rich tourism resources and infrastructure, particularly the proposed West Sea Inter-Korean Peace Expressway,” Park said.
The city’s tourism resources include Gangwha Island, which is called “a museum with no roof,” meaning that the entire island is a museum, and a total of 168 islands, including the Five West Sea Islands near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) which are known for their beautiful sceneries.
The city’s tourism infrastructure also includes Incheon International Airport on Yeongjong Island, Incheon Port and a terminal dedicated to cruise, which is to open later this month, and Songdo and Cheongna international cities.
On Yeongjong Island, Paradise City, a resort complex, opened in April, offering accommodations along with recreational activities, including a casino and spa facilities. The island will have two more resort complexes, Caesars Korea, the first Asian casino resort developed by U.S.-based casino group Caesars Entertainment Corp. and scheduled to open in early 2021, and Inspire Integrated Resort, for which ground will be broken in May this year.
The tourism belt idea is particularly buttressed by the planned West Sea Inter-Korean Peace Expressway, which starts at Yeongjong Island and connects the North's Kaesong and Haeju via Ganghwa Island. This highway will serve as the main artery for inter-Korean cooperation and economic development when tensions ease with North Korea and cross-border exchanges begin.
The government has already given the green light to the first-stage construction of the expressway from Yeongjong Island to Sindo Island. Incheon City is pressing the central government for an early start of the second stage of the project from Sindo Island to Ganghwa Island. If the second stage is completed, it will take less than 20 minutes to drive from Incheon International Airport to Ganghwa Island, allowing overseas tourists and transit tourists to visit the beautiful island with ease.
Incheon City is also pushing to revitalize the cruise market as an international passenger terminal with the capacity to accommodate 220,000-ton cruise vessels will be opened at the port of Incheon on April 26.
Incheon’s cruise business depends heavily on Chinese tourists due to its geographic location. The market has been hit hard by China’s ban on package tours to Korea in retaliation for the latter’s THAAD deployment. To revive the market, the city government is planning to explore new inter-Korean cruise routes, a project that needs support from the central government.
Incheon City is also aiming to become as a global MICE city based on the Incheon Free Economic Zone. In particular, Songdo in the free economic zone is home to 15 international organizations, including the World Bank's Green Climate Fund (GCF), and a growing number of global corporations. It successfully hosted the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development World Forum last year, and is preparing to hold the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2020.
Last year, the Korean government designated Songdo as the nation’s first “International Conference Complex” as part of its efforts to foster the MICE industry. The IFEZ is seeking to attract large-scale international conferences, trade shows and meetings based on the outstanding MICE infrastructure around Songdo Convensia. Its goal is to make Songdo one of the world’s top 10 MICE cities.
Incheon City is also promoting redevelopment of the Inner Port and the original city center. It has drawn up a master plan for the project in cooperation with the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. It plans to make the Inner Port a killer content for tourism by linking it with the historical and cultural zones of the city center.
Incheon already has rich tourism resources and solid infrastructure. But it plans to further enrich its resources by building an airport on Baengnyeong Island, one of the Five West Sea Islands, to improve access to the islands’ wonderful natural environment, and expand the infrastructure for history and culture tourism on Ganghwa Island.