South Korea doused 2 tiny islands in a vibrant purple. It brought in a new wave of tourism
- Banwol Island and Bakji Island in South Korea have been nicknamed the "purple islands."
- It's not hard to see why: The houses, the bridge, and even the roads have been painted purple.
- The color scheme was part of a 2015 government tourism initiative - and it's working.
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On two small South Korean islands, life has taken on a distinctly lavender hue.
You can see it on the rooftops, the phone booths, and the bridge that connects the two islands, Banwol Island and Bakji Island, to each other. You can see it on the locals, who often don head-to-toe purple outfits. And you can see it on the tourists who have a newfound interest in the islands ever since the Korean government launched the purple initiative in 2015.
Melanie Lopez, an expat who has been living in South Korea with her family of four for two years, told Insider she visited the purple islands in September 2020.
"We went on a Saturday, so we definitely saw more tourists than locals there, but it was still not overwhelming," Lopez said. "We walked around the islands and at some parts didn't even see other people."
The primary attraction also seems to be its simplest one: the color itself.
"There were a few small restaurants, convenience shops, ice cream or coffee shops there, but not many," Lopez said.
La vie en purple
Banwol and Bakji are about a six-hour drive from Seoul. They're part of Shinan County, which is composed of 1,000 islands in the southwestern part of the country.
While you can take a bridge to Banwol Island, cars aren't permitted on the islands and have to be left in a parking lot upon arrival.
"The island is only accessible by foot and/or bikes, which you can rent on the island," Lopez said. And while there's a fee to walk around the islands, it's waived if you wear purple.
For overnighters, there are purple hotels, and for foodies, there's a restaurant that serves purple food.
The Korean government launched the purple rebrand in 2015 as part of an initiative to "create attractive island destinations." Inspired by the purple bellflowers that grow on the islands, 400 rooftops were painted purple. The county has since invested more than $4.25 million towards the effort.
The distinctively purple islands now join the ranks of other jewel-tone cities that are cashing in on their color scheme - think Morocco's famous blue city, Chefchaouen, and Izamal, Mexico's yellow city.
The result has, predictably and profitably, proven to be Instagram fodder. It's also ended up being something of a lifeline during the pandemic.
Since 2018, more than 490,000 people have visited the islands, according to CNN Travel. Between June and August 2020 alone, more than 100,000 people came to the islands, a 20% increase from 2019. And since a 14-day quarantine period is mandatory upon entering South Korea during the pandemic, the islands - with their relatively new rebrand - have offered a domestic tourism option for locals.
The Korea Tourism Organization did not respond to Insider's request for comment for this story.
Beautiful colours, somber reality
Beneath the beautiful purple shades decorating the islands, however, is a somber reality.
Banwol and Bakji islands have a combined population of about 150, most of whom are farmers.
"Old people like us have a secluded life here, since all the young people left the town," said 79-year-old villager Shin Deok-im, 79, per a Reuters report.
It's not only Banwol and Bakji islands that are facing down a population problem. The situation is reflected more broadly across South Korea, which currently has the lowest birth rate in the world, per the BBC. The country is also home to the most rapidly aging population in the developed world.
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