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Jeju Island chosen among ‘New7Wonders of Nature’

The southern South Korean resort island of Jeju has been named as one of the new seven natural wonders of the world in a worldwide poll, a Switzerland-based organization announced Saturday.

The subtropical volcanic island, located 130 kilometers off the southern coast of the Korean Peninsula, was selected along with Brazil’s Amazon region, Halong Bay in Vietnam, Argentina’s Iguazu Falls, Indonesia’s Komodo National Park, the Puerto Princesa Underground River in the Philippines, and South Africa’s Table Mountain, according to the New7Wonders foundation in Zurich.

Jeju Island had been vying against 27 other natural sites in a project initiated by the Switzerland-based nonprofit organization in 2007.

Voting to select the New7Wonders began in July 2009 on the Internet and by phone, with the last vote being received on Friday.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak congratulated Jeju on being picked as the new natural wonder prior to departing for the 19th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting.

He said that the selection is noteworthy because it was carried out by popular vote from people living all over the world.

“More effort must be made to develop and preserve the island’s beauty so it can become a natural heritage for all mankind,” he said. The president voted for Jeju in September and had been one of the staunch supporters of the bid.

This view was echoed by the National Committee for Jeju New7Wonders of Nature, an organization to help the island. Former Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, who led the organization, said the selection represents global recognition that the island has the potential to become one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world. Such a development could have long-term economic benefits for Jeju.

Known for a combination of scenic mountains, waterfalls, forests, caves and beaches, Jeju has been popular with South Korean honeymooners and tourists from neighboring countries such as China and Japan.

“A good harmony of human and nature is the characteristic of Jeju Island,” Chung said.

He said the selection of Jeju as a natural wonder will boost the country’s image as a tourist and cultural spot in addition to its fame for speedy industrialization and democratization.

“Most of all, the tourism revenue of Jeju Island will sharply increase and other regions of South Korea will have related effects,” Chung said. “The enhancement of its national status will have a more valuable effect.”

Reflecting this, the Jeju Development Institute, a local think tank, said the annual number of foreign tourists may rise a maximum 73.6 percent, translating into an additional 1.2 trillion won (US$ 1.06 billion) for the local economy.

Jeju Governor Woo Geun-min also said that it will open a new chapter in the island’s tourism industry.

“Now, we have gained confidence that Jeju can be attractive to the world,” he said. He vowed that the island will use the opportunity to bolster its tourism industry to the next level.

The Jeju regional administration said that efforts will be made to work with the other new seven wonders sites and to boost the island’s many awe-inspiring natural assets in cooperation with the central government.

The island will push for a special law to win more national support and expand important infrastructure such as its airport to accommodate more visitors.

In 2002, Jeju was designated as a “biosphere reserve” by UNESCO and listed as a World Natural Heritage Site in 2007. It was also awarded “geopark” status last year, becoming the only place on the planet to receive all three UNESCO honors.

It, however, suffered from a slow start, having set up a support committee one year after rivals in other countries. The relatively small number of people on the island and low overseas awareness of its beauties were other obstacles it had to overcome.

The Swiss foundation, meanwhile, said the announcement reflects provisional results of the voting and that the calculations are now being validated and independently verified with the confirmed winners to be announced early next year during the official inauguration ceremonies.

Jeju Island authorities, however, claimed that there is little likelihood of any changes in the results.

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