SEOGWIPO, Jeju Island -- As more Koreans head overseas for holidays with the lifting of COVID-19 related travel restrictions, there are concerns that domestic travel to Jeju Island may decrease.
But with a number of luxury hotels newly opening on the southern island, Jeju’s travel industry is positive about growth prospects.
JW Marriott Jeju Resort & Spa, expected to open sometime this month, is the latest five-star hotel on the island -- Grand Hyatt Jeju opened its doors in 2020 and Parnas Hotel Jeju in July last year.
Situated on Seogwipo City's coastal columnar joints, which are craggy cliffs formed by volcanic pillars, the hotel occupies some 26,830 square meters of land.
While part of Jeju's columnar joints are designated natural monuments and therefore protected against urban development such as those along the Jungmun and Daepo coasts of Seogwipo, the developers of JW Marriott Jeju Resort & Spa was approved for construction in 2017.
All 197 rooms at the hotel face the ocean with a view of Beomseom, an island whose shape resembles a crouching tiger.
A sky bridge connects to the rooftop bar and restaurants, from which you can enjoy the uninterrupted view of three islands -- Seopseom, Munseom and Beomseom -- that dot the ocean.
Look below and you will find Yeoumul, or the Fox Pond, named after the tragic love story of a fox who turned into a lady, according to an island myth.
Inspired by Jeju's nature, farming and fishing industries, American architect Bill Bensley led the design of the hotel. The yellow tone of the interior was inspired by the rapeseed flowers that heralds the arrival of spring on the island.
The hotel’s aim is for its guests to be "revitalized in spirit" in a stress-free environment.
The hotel restaurant's breakfast hours are unusually long, from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., to allow for a leisurely breakfast and brunch.
"Having to wake up at a set time breaks the purpose of a relaxing vacation from the start," Kim Douglas, general manager at the JW Marriott Jeju Resort & Spa told The Korea Herald. "We want our guests to feel private and relaxed in their space and time. The very minute things are carefully planned to stand out from other hotel experiences."
Closer to nature
JW Marriott Jeju Resort & Spa is located adjacent to the Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market, the largest traditional market in Seogwipo with seafood shops and vendors, as well as Sanbangsan, a majestic lava dome.
But the biggest draw for nature lovers is the hotel's proximity to the Jeju Olle Trail.
The hotel is connected to the Jeju Olle Trail route 7, a 17.6-kilometer course, which begins at the Jeju Olle Tourist Center, passes through the Beophwan Port and ends at Wolpyeong.
A 15-minute walk from the hotel takes you to Oedolgae Sea Stack, a basalt formation that sits close to the beautiful shore of Sammaebong.
Beophwan Port is a less well-known village beloved by locals as a spot to watch the sun rise over the ocean.
Signs at the village indicate an outdoor public bath and a communal laundry place used by residents in the past. A stone statue of haenyeo stands at the center of the port to tell the history of Jeju's female divers.
Walk to the Seogwipo Chilsipnisi Park, some two kilometers from the hotel, to catch a stunning view of Cheonjiyeon Waterfall. The park also connects to the Artists Road of Seogwipo, a 4.9-kilometer walking trail created in memory of poets, novelists and painters who lived in Seogwipo at one point.
Wellness programs to feed the soul
The hotel makes full use of its natural surroundings, inviting guests for nature-themed recreational experiences.
More than 15 recreational programs will be offered, including an hourlong yoga and mind relaxation program.
A staff member experienced in outdoor activities will lead a maximum of 10 guests on a walk on the Olle Trail. The walk will be followed by a 30-minute mediation and stretching session back at the hotel's courtyard.
Sustainable cooking programs are also offered, led by the hotel's chef.
Guests can take part in picking seasonal vegetables and herbs from the JW Garden and learn basic cooking skills with the ingredients of their choice.
Equipment for picnics and hiking can be rented in the lobby.
Another element that the hotel takes pride in are the roughly 50 artworks by local and international artists that it has on display.
"Some of the most valued art pieces are present at the hotel -- including works by Kim Tschang-yeul, Lynn Chadwick, John Currin, Alexandar Calder and Laurent Grasso -- not in the form of a formal gallery, but in open spaces where guests can freely enjoy the works," Kim said.
The opening date has not been officially confirmed, but JW Marriott Jeju Resort & Spa will be accepting reservations before April, according to the hotel.