- By Catherine A. TraywickCatherine A. Traywick is a fellow at Foreign Policy.
The lure of K-pop and the easy availability of cosmetic surgery have nearly doubled the number of tourists to South Korea in the past few years. But soon discerning travelers may flock to the country’s shores for a new reason: nude beaches.
Officials from the northeast province of Gangwon are hoping to open the nation’s first nude beach by 2017, in an effort to draw tourists away from South Korea’s more popular — and notably warmer — western beaches. At first blush, the combination of cold water and naked flesh seems problematic, but officials are confident that the novelty of the beach will trump its chill. ”As vacation cultures diversify, the interest in conventional beaches is decreasing," one official told the Korea Times. "This is part of our plans to create beaches with specific purpose, like a beach for families, a beach for couples, a beach for pets, and yes, a nude beach."
The idea is part of a broader effort to boost tourism in South Korea, which already has its fair share of novel attractions. Annual mud festivals (like the one pictured above) draw both internal and foreign tourists to South Korea’s beaches. The number of foreign tourists coming to Seoul’s Beauty Belt for cosmetic procedures has increased fivefold since 2009. Tourism surged to new heights in 2012, following the global success of PSY’s K-pop single "Gangnam Style."
Officials keen on prolonging the trend are devising increasingly clever ways of attracting new visitors. Last week, the tourism board unveiled a new, "Gangnam Style" tourist police force styled by one of PSY’s own designers. At the launch, a police drill team even performed the horse-riding dance from the "Gangnam Style" video.
Seoul’s tourism board also hired director Park Chan-wook, who is known for producing incredibly violent films like Vengeance and Old Boy, to create a promotional video for the city. Though Park says that video likely won’t feature death or killing, he acknowledges that the final product will be "perfectly unpredictable."
Obviously, tourism officials in South Korea aren’t afraid to get creative. But the nude beach remains a long shot. In 2004 and 2009, municipal leaders attempted to open nude or clothing-optional beaches in South Korea, but both proposals failed due to lack of public support. Gangwon officials acknowledge that South Koreans may be reluctant to embrace the idea, let alone the practice, so they’re mulling over a plan to open the beach exclusively to foreign tourists. Foreigners, they reason, might be less shy about stripping down, and this could have a liberalizing effect on the local population.