Mt. Geumgang Project to Take Another Leap

Korea Times
Ryu Jin

Mt. Geumgang tourism project, launched in 1998, has grown up as one of the three major inter-Korean economic projects in accordance with the reconciliation of the two Koreas. And it now braces itself for another leap with the 2007 South-North Summit.

But the project went through a rough and difficult road in the past nine years, largely due to exterior factors such as the political instability such as the nuclear standoff between North Korea and the United States since 2002.

Hyundai Asan, the operator of the cross-border tourism project, expects the summit to provide a fresh momentum for their business. Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun will accompany President Roh Moo-hyun to Pyongyang.

Riding on Reconciliation

In June, Mount Geumgang opened the elegance of its inner part to outsiders for the first time since the pre-modern Korea was divided into two different systems — the capitalist South and the communist North — more than half a century ago.

Since it became accessible in 1998, Mt. Geumgang has emerged not only as a popular tourist destination for South Koreans but also one of the few places in North Korea where foreigners could travel relatively easily.

But the inner part of the mountain, better known as “Naegeumgang” in Korean, has been closed by North Korea despite the repeated requests by Hyundai Asan in the past several years.

Geumgang-san, a 12,000-peak mountain that has long held aesthetic and spiritual allures for Koreans, could be divided into three parts: “Naegeumgang” (inner, western part), “Oegeumgang” (outer, eastern part) and “Haegeumgang” (seashore part).

In the past, people took trains to Cheorwon to explore the auspicious mountain _ they climbed up through Naegeumgang to get to the highest Biro-bong peak (1,638 meters), looked around Oegeumgang and then came down to Haegeumgang.

Former Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok, who climbed up the new course, said it was quite meaningful that Pyongyang has finally decided to open the secretive area, given the strategic importance of the military bases facing the South’s Cheorwon.

After a four-month operation of the Naegeumgang tour, more than 50,000 people are expected to visit Mt. Geumgang in October to break the record for the number of visitors in a single month, according to Hyundai Asan.

For Another Leap

Since the first tour to Oegeumgang in late 1998, more than 1.5 million visitors have made the trip to the mountain resort as of May. Most visitors were South Koreans, while nearly 8,000 visitors came from 48 other countries.

But Hyundai Asan’s tourism business has often been affected by security situations on the peninsula. It met difficulties when North Korea conducted a nuclear test in October last year.

Amid the heightened tension, the number of tourists to the mountain resort plummeted to some 240,000 last year, putting a damper on Hyundai Asan’s target of securing more than 400,000 visitors.

Hyundai Asan CEO Yoon Man-joon said earlier this year that the company set the target at 400,000 again for this year. By the end of May, about 100,000 people have made the trip to Mt. Geumgang this year, according to Hyundai Asan spokespersons.

Yoon said that the company would also try to revamp tour programs to draw more younger visitors as part of its new marketing strategy for the existing tour to the outer side of the mountain, Oegeumgang.

Company officials added, once the 500,000-pyong (408-acre) 18-hole golf course is completed in October, Mt. Geumgang would be reborn as a new resort complex with “things to see, eat, buy and enjoy.”

Hyundai Asan has a new plan for the next year. “Our tourism business would be put on the right track next year, if the visitors could drive their own cars all the way to the resort area across the border and clime up to the highest Biro-bong,” a spokesman said.


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