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Noise, trash and lack of privacy: South Korea restricts tourist access to traditional neighborhood

As the problem of overtourism spreads to cities and countries around the world, authorities in South Korea have announced stricter controls and measures to protect a traditional historic district in central Seoul from the throngs of tourists that have flooded its streets and caused friction with locals over the years.

Known for its picturesque and well-preserved traditional Korean houses called “hanok,” Bukchon Hanok Village is one of Seoul’s most popular tourist spots, attracting thousands of visitors every day.

But tourists far outnumber residents, and complaints about noise, litter and privacy issues nearby have increased over the years.

Located in the Jongno district of central Seoul, Bukchon is close to other cultural landmarks such as the Jongmyo royal ancestral shrine and the grand palaces of Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung.

In a bid to ease tensions and control crowds, district authorities will begin restricting tourist access to the popular village from October this year.

It will be designated the country’s first “special management area” under South Korea’s Tourism Promotion Law.

Strict curfews for non-residents will be enforced daily between 5pm and 10am. Chartered buses carrying tourists will be restricted in several sections.

The aim is to reduce traffic and make Bukchon “foot-centric,” officials said.

Three color-coded zones — red, orange and yellow — will also be designated to allow local authorities to control and monitor crowds in the most densely populated areas. Fines will also be imposed on violators, officials said.

Following public complaints, signs in four languages ​​warning tourists about noise levels were installed in 2018.

The area once served as a residence for high-ranking officials and nobility during the era of the Joseon kings, who ruled Korea from 1300 until 1910. Today, the area is home to around 6,000 residents, as well as businesses such as guesthouses, craft shops and cafes – with several prominent photo spots.

However, some of those who live and work in the area dismissed the new measures as “bullshit”.

The cafe’s owner, Lee Youn-hee, told CNN that tourists usually leave after sunset as they are mainly there to take pictures.

“In the winter, visitors leave at 5 p.m., and in the summer, maybe at 6 p.m. because the days are longer,” Lee said. “It won’t make a huge difference.”

A growing global problem

But Seoul is not alone. Many global cities are struggling to find a balance between much-needed tourism revenue and maintaining their appeal to locals.

Tourists visiting Barcelona this week were sprayed with water by protesters marching through popular areas to protest against mass tourism in the city. The Italian lagoon city of Venice introduced a testing fee in April to limit the number of day tourists.

Overtourism has long been a problem in Japan, with the situation deteriorating rapidly since the country reopened after the pandemic.

The slopes of Mount Fuji have seen increasing traffic jams, trash-strewn foothills, as well as bad tourist behavior.

Uncontrolled tourists have been especially problematic in Kyoto, one of Japan’s most popular tourist cities, famous for its iconic Gion geisha district. Reports of “geisha paparazzi” have fueled public anger and prompted city officials to take action.

Back in Seoul, around 6.6 million domestic and foreign tourists are believed to have visited Bukchon in 2023, according to government data.

“I think it’s important for tourists to be respectful of those who live here,” Sindere Schoultz, a tourist from Sweden, told CNN . “We want to come here and have fun, but we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes and be disrespectful.”

Another Swedish tourist, Emma Hägg, said she understood the reasons behind the ban. “I don’t mind,” she said. “I completely understand why and it’s good that they still want us.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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