Gangwon Governor Kim Jin-tae speaks to The Korea Herald during an interview at his office in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province. (Gangwon Province)
CHUNCHEON, Gangwon Province -- Kim Jin-tae, the new governor of Gangwon Province who has been in office for four months, says he is “more than ready” to welcome tourists back after a long pandemic hiatus in travel.
Speaking with The Korea Herald, he said that the province has “no shortage of attractions to enjoy all year round,” including some of the “country’s best mountains” -- Seoraksan and Chiaksan -- along with scenic rivers and beaches.
“You can come skiing in the winter and surfing in the summer,” he said.
Gangwon also prided itself on the thriving wildlife of the Demilitarized Zone, he said, which is open to supervised tours.
He said Gangwon was “being revamped” to be more foreigner-friendly.
The province has launched cab and bus rides for international tourists from the airport in Yangyang to some of its most popular destinations such as Chuncheon, Gangneung and Sokcho.
The Yangyang International Airport resumed international flights after they were stopped for more than two years due to the pandemic.
“Some unprecedented numbers of tourists are anticipated to visit Gangwon after the long pandemic shutdown, and we are ready to welcome them back,” he said.
“To all visitors, I want to say, welcome to Gangwon. You will love Gangwon.”
One of the major changes awaiting Gangwon is its newly granted “special autonomy” as a municipal government, he said, which means that the province can now have its own police, park services and road designs, among other things.
Getting the autonomous status has been a long-awaited wish for Gangwon, the governor said. Over the last three presidential campaigns, making Gangwon autonomous had been proposed as a pledge by both political parties.
But the province had to wait until June of this year for the motion to be passed by the Cabinet and the National Assembly. The laws giving Gangwon the autonomous status will come into effect in June next year.
Kim said the new status can give Gangwon the edge it needs to compete with other popular holiday destinations like Jeju and Busan, which are also among the country’s handful of autonomous municipalities.
“We are just as beloved as Jeju or Busan by locals, but I regret that for international visitors Gangwon might not be as known yet,” he said.
Kim said that one of the most urgent tasks facing Gangwon was financial stability and sustainability, alluding to the loan delinquency controversy surrounding the Legoland Korea Resort that opened in May in Chuncheon.
He said his office was working hard to clear up the financial mess, and “not let a single dime of taxpayer money go to waste.”
He also vowed to raise his voice for keeping Gangwon a “safe place to live,” after a North Korean missile crash near a residential neighborhood startled many residents in October.
“I have relayed my concerns to the authorities. The safety of the people of Gangwon is our chief priority.”
Taking the governor’s seat has been another career shift “from a politician to an administrator” for the two-time lawmaker and former prosecutor.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s also like coming home,” said Kim, a Gangwon native.
The governor said that over his term, he wished to “deliver the change that the people want to see.”
“Gangwon hasn’t had a conservative governor for the past 12 years. In the June election, Gangwon voters switched to the conservative party I think because they wanted a change,” he said. “I hope to live up to that expectation.”
By Kim Arin (email@example.com