HWACHEON, Jan. 29 (Korea Bizwire) — The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival that just ended has become the country’s biggest winter festival by attracting an all-time high number of visitors.
The annual ice fishing festival that kicked off on Jan. 5 on a frozen river in the remote county of Hwacheon, about 120 kilometers northeast of Seoul, drew 1.84 million tourists during its 23-day run, according to Hwacheon County.
The figure was a 6 percent increase from a year ago.
The isolated county with a population of a mere 27,000 launched the festival in 2003 in a desperate bid to activate its extremely sluggish economy.
The festival has seen more than 1 million visitors every year since 2006 after drawing some 200,000 tourists in its first year.
This year’s success was forecast as a strong cold wave hit the area earlier than in previous years.
Nearly 20,000 fishing holes were pierced through the ice over a 2.1-kilometer area about the size of 24 soccer fields, and 180 tons of “sancheoneo” were released during the festival. Sancheoneo is a species of trout known to live only in very clean fresh water.
Hwacheon residents worked hard to maintain the thickness of the river’s ice and conduct daily safety checks for tourists.
The central government also helped make the festival successful by upgrading their promotion of the festival from “the country’s leading festival” to “a festival to be nurtured as a global festival” at the end of last year.
The festival was filled with visitors upon opening, with aerial images instantly drawing attention globally.
Many local and foreign news organizations introduced the magnificent scene of people trying to catch fish through holes in the vast frozen river. In 2011, a leading global news organization introduced the festival as one of the world’s seven wonders of winter.
The festival began with some 143,000 tourists on Jan. 5 and posted a record daily high of 230,000 on Jan. 12. The total number of visitors surpassed 1 million nine days after the opening of the festival, three days ahead of the previous year.
The number of foreign visitors also set a new record of 146,000, with some 20,000 of them being individual tourists from about 40 countries.
The revenue from the festival was calculated at about 6 billion won (US$5.35 million), up 18 percent on-year. The county also issued some 460,000 gift cards with which tourists can buy local products.
The festival featured some 60 kinds of programs, including various outdoor activities such as barehanded fishing, a sled contest, bobsleigh and ice soccer. It also boasted an ice sculpture square, a Santa Claus post office introduced from the Finnish town of Rovaniemi and a street with 27,000 lanterns.