|Dokdo / Korea Times file|
By Lee Suh-yoon
With patriotic sentiments running high among Koreans against Japan amid diplomatic tension following Japan's unfair trade restrictions, public attention is falling on an old symbol of sovereignty in the East Sea ― the Dokdo Islets, over which Japan also maintains a territorial claim.
Located about 200 kilometers off the country's eastern coast, the small islets has become a must-visit place for Koreans who visit Ulleung Island, a nearby bigger island closer to the mainland, if weather permits.
Against this backdrop, some tour companies are presenting tour programs involving Dokdo.
Web Tour, a Hana Tour subsidiary that specializes in Ulleung Island and Dokdo tours, is offering a free day tour to Dokdo to those who book a three-day tour on Ulleung Island during August. Before, the option cost an extra 58,000 won ($48).
Kang Su-jung, a marketing officer at Web Tour, says more Koreans are seeking out the islets compared to previous years.
"The special tour package is timed for the upcoming Liberation Day (Aug. 15) and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Korea's Provisional Government against the Japanese colonial government," Kang said in a phone interview. "We hope many people will take this chance to visit our Dokdo."
Some of the increase in visitor numbers is fueled by the completion of a new coastal motorway on Ulleung Island last December, Kang added.
JH Ferry, which runs boat rides among Hupo Port in Uljin, Ulleung Island and Dokdo, also announced this week that it would provide a free Dokdo tour to those who sign up for an all-inclusive three-day package in Ulleung.
The demographic of visitors to Dokdo has widened in the recent surge, according to Web Tour's Kang.
"Before, most of the visitors to Dokdo were people in their 50s and 60s. Now we get a lot of families with young children coming for (historical and geopolitical) educational purposes, as well as groups of university students," she said.
According to the Dokdo management office under Ulleung County, some 172,500 people visited Dokdo this year as of Aug. 1, up 29.7 percent from 132,900 during the same period of last year.
The office said the growing number of visitors to Ulleung following the motorway completion has also boosted visits to Dokdo, as well as historic factors such as the 100th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement. It expects the largest number of visitors to Dokdo this year, following the growing anti-Abe sentiment after Japan's export curbs.
Besides Dokdo, many Koreans are seeking domestic destinations or Southeast Asian countries for summer holidays as they are boycotting trips to neighboring Japan, a popular year-round destination for Koreans.
Many Koreans cancelled summer vacations to Japan that were planned months in advance, paying hefty cancellation costs. Screenshots of flight refund pages or family photos taken in domestic destinations such as Jeju Island or Gangneung with Korean flag hashtags have flooded social media.