Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

This Korean Holiday Island Puts the Rest of the Country's Economy to Shame

The population of Jeju booms as South Koreans flee the rat race.
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Far from the Hyundai car factories and Samsung chip plants in South Korea's industrial heartland, a holiday island's economy is growing at more than double the national rate.

And it's not just about tourism. Businesses on Jeju -- a subtropical island off the nation's south coast that's about twice the size of Singapore -- are more confident than anywhere else in Korea. Home prices are rising faster than the national average and people are migrating from the mainland for a better work-life balance. 

About 1,200 Koreans moved to the island each month in 2015, a record high. The populations of Seoul and Busan -- the nation's two biggest cities -- shrank. Korea's population will stop growing around 2030, the government forecasts. 

Game company Neople moved all of its 530 staff and their families to the island. "Most of our employees are game developers who needed a more spacious and creative workplace. There is no nightlife in Jeju, but you spend more time with families and we're happy,'' said Choi Hyun Woo, the company's communications manager.

Those people, and their demand for houses, mean the economy of the island famous domestically for its volcanic landscape and unique food expanded around 6 percent in 2015, more than double the rate of the nation.

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And businesses were more confident about the economic outlook this quarter than in any other region. House prices are booming, up 10.4 percent in December, compared with a 4.3 percent rise in Seoul, and there are plans for a new airport and international schools.

Jeju is expected to be a standout this year, too. Foreign tourists are returning with the end of the MERS epidemic, and the population is forecast to keep rising. 

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