Asia Minute: An Environmental Tax for Tourists?

Aug 30, 2017

Jeju Island
Credit Wikimedia Commons

As the state legislature continues its deliberations this week on financing the Honolulu rail project, there is a focus on taxes. One of the taxes involved largely concerns tourists—the Transient Accommodations Tax. But some countries in the Asia Pacific are considering other kinds of travel taxes. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

South Korea’s Jeju Island thrives on tourism.

Some enthusiastic tour operators call it “South Korea’s Hawai‘i.”

It is a volcanic island roughly the size of Maui with lots of natural beauty.

But a straight-up comparison with Hawai‘i may be a bit of a stretch. For example; temperatures hit the low 40’s in the winter. Tourism has exploded on the island, from about a million foreign tourists in 2011 to more than 3 million last year – mostly coming from China.

Local government officials say all those visitors are taking a toll on the environment, suggesting maybe the travelers should do more to help.

Like pay a tax. Not a tourism tax, but an additional environmental tax, something that’s already been tried in the South Asian island nation of the Maldives—which calls it a “green tax.”

The Hankook Ilbo newspaper reports a civic group on Jeju came up with the tax idea as a first step to “conserve the island’s natural values and improve its tourism culture”—in part by making visitors feel responsible for their environmental impact.

This week, government officials on Jeju announced the Korean Association for Local Finance will be conducting a study to see whether such a tax might be “feasible.”