More people visited Gyeongbokgung Palace during the five-day night viewing period last week than in any previous year since the event was launched in 2010.
But its popularity is a mixed blessing. It not only caused much inconvenience to visitors, but raised some serious public safety issues as well as concerns about how to preserve the cultural heritage site while still keeping it open to large crowds.
On Sunday evening during the final hours of the Gyeongbokgung Palace night viewing, a large crowd gathered to take pictures with the stately, illuminated Geunjeongjeon, the main hall, in the background. But many were dissatisfied.
“I waited 40 minutes standing in line to go to the bathroom,” a woman in her 60s said. She also complained about the fact that the safety officials would not permit anyone to spread a blanket or jacket to sit on or lie down on in the grass area, arguing that doing so damaged the lawn.
A large crowd gathers inside Gyeongbokgung Palace in downtown Seoul on Wednesday night, the first night this year for the palace to be open for public viewing. (Yonhap News)
About 42,000 visitors flocked to see the Joseon-period palace in downtown Seoul lit up at night on Wednesday, the first day of the nighttime opening, and the Cultural Heritage Administration estimates some 180,000 people came to the viewing over the five-day period. Last year, the twice-a-year event attracted a total of 108,000 people.
The huge swell in the number of visitors has led to a debate over whether or not to extend the night-viewing period.
To alleviate public safety concerns rising from overcrowding at Gyeongbokgung Palace during its five-day night-viewing period, the committee will review the possibility of extending the number of days and make suggestions to the Cultural Heritage Administration in June, Democratic Party Rep. Shin Hak-yong, chairman of the National Assembly’s Education, Science and Technology Committee, said on Sunday.
Officials attribute this year’s jump in the number of visitors partly to the newly introduced online ticketing service (www.royalpalace.go.kr) for the night viewing.
Due to heavy user traffic, the online ticketing service, too, suffered from frequent connection problems from the first day. After some 42,000 visitors flocked to the palace on the first night, CHA officials quickly announced the following day that the number of online ticket sales would be limited to 30,000 a day and on-site tickets to 10,000 each night, restricting the total number of visitors to 40,000 for each night viewing.
The number of incidents of damage to the site as well as of minor public safety accidents, such as visitors pushing each other and falling down while taking pictures, has increased since 2010, CHA statistics show.
“With an increasing number of people visiting every year, more accidents are bound to occur, and there will be more damage to the site as well,” said an official in charge of the palace’s night-viewing program.
“Even if we were to extend the period of night viewing in the future, it’s directly related to the budget and manpower. Currently we’re running on a tight budget and limited staff, with everyone working a 15-hour shift every day,” the official added.
By Kwon Bum-joon (firstname.lastname@example.org