When we arrived at her guesthouse, Mrs. Je-Ryang Ko welcomed us with a huge smile. She accepted to communicate her passion and expertise in sustainable development in exchange for the promotion of her company on our platforms.
Je-Ryang Ko noticed that the island was suffering from a progressive deterioration, and that the communities were put aside in the development of local tourism. This was partially due to the destructive effects of capitalist development and mass tourism (richening of the external investors instead of the local community, destruction of the biodiversity…). Determined to remedy these issues, she founded the Jeju Eco Tours travel agency in 2003.
She gathered 6 ecological guides in order to modify the classic practices and develop new initiatives to create an innovative tourism culture in Jeju:
“The island encloses a unique ecosystem. It is the only place on earth where the four internationally designated protection zones are found in one place.” notes Je-Ryang.
These include the volcanic island, the Biosphere reserves, the Lava Tubes (UNESCO), and the two swamp sites: Ramsar and Muljangori-Oreaum. But the island also encloses numerous species of fauna and flora, many of which are endangered. The local culture and history are also very rich and distinctive.
Therefore, Je-Ryang and her team started offering different personalized programs: educational activities, visits to the local villages, cooking classes, healing and well-being programs, hikes in natural environments…Trips that are focused on the preservation of the local ecosystems, and that highlight the cultural heritage of the island. Jeju Eco Tours also makes sure there is an equitable redistribution of the revenus towards the local community.
Apart from the development of these programs, Jeju Eco Tours also engages in numerous non-profit activities: research studies on ecosystem protection methods, assistance towards the local communities (education, organisation, mediator…).
Je-Ryang shows a true engagement towards responsible tourism, centred on what she calls “common sens”: learning about the eco-systematic services (especially in the swamps), and the community sharing spirit. But she also demonstrates a remarquable patience facing the difficulties encountered (resistance of some of the local actors, slow results…). She is a true warrior in sustainable tourism!