Spike in camping enthusiasts in Korea, yet camping etiquette lags behind

“This is not a campsite,” reads a banner that hangs prominently -- yet seemingly powerlessly -- in a public parking lot at the port of a small island off the city of Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province.

After gaining social media fame as a haven for fishing and camping, the island of Neokdo’s usually quiet fishing villages are grappling with visitors in camping cars and tents overstaying their welcome. Often they occupy prime spots in public space, leaving them mostly unattended, only to use them when they can, such as on weekends.

Campers becoming a nuisance to local villagers is not uncommon in South Korea now, since outdoor leisure has become a widespread pastime, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

It is estimated that Korea has nearly 5 million campers now, with the number of campsite operators nearly tripling from the pre-pandemic tally in 2019 to a record high of 3,600 as of September this year, according to data from the Korea Tourism Association.

The growing popularity of camping activities, however, is leading to concerns that there is a lack of campground etiquette and safety awareness from some of the country’s campers.