Lack of exposure wrecks Korean plan to establish 'Bikini Beach'

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Bikini Beach in South Korea boasts inviting blue shallows, two kilometres of soft sand and a cooling fringe of pine trees. What you'll struggle to find is bikinis.

When local officials on this beautiful stretch of the rural west coast shot envious glances in the direction of commercial beach meccas like Indonesia's Bali, rebranding Byeonsan as "Bikini Beach" must have seemed a brilliant idea.

Anticipating a little reticence on the part of shy locals in the traditionally conservative Korean countryside, they offered financial inducements to those brave enough to bare some flesh.

For anyone who hasn't got the idea yet there are posters plastering the walls of local hotels and restaurants featuring bikini-clad young women exhorting girls to "Show off your beauty and get a 10 discount on top!"

But reluctant locals seem to prize their dignity more than a cheap lunch.

"Since it's called Bikini Beach, we thought we should give visitors an extra incentive," Gang Heung Ueon, a spokesman for Byeonsan County, told The New York Times. "This beach might be compared to Bali or to other famous South-east Asian beaches."

Despite persuading almost all of the local businesses to sign up to the discount scheme only one in 10 beachgoers has gone skimpy so far. The Byeonsan promenade is more turn-of-the-century Bournemouth than Baywatch. The midday crowds padding the sands go for a buttoned-up look with men in shirt-sleeves and trousers, while women hide from the sun under parasols.

But Mr Gang and his colleagues are not so easily dissuaded and staged the "Miss Byeonsan Bikini Contest" to get things going.

But not even that went according to plan, as local women drew a line in the sand, insisting on one-piece swimsuits. Eventually they ceded the stage to paid-for models sporting the longed-for bikinis and toned young men in speedos. At a nearby grocery store Roh Yong Hwan, 24, said only a handful of people had asked for a discount.

"If what they're wearing is a little skimpy, or if they're at least wearing a bikini top, we'll give them the discount," he said.

Seemingly the only people taking any notice are from a local women's rights group and they're not amused. "This is an outrageous attempt to stimulate the regional economy by exploiting the female sex," said a statement from the association of women activists of North Jeolla Province. "We are appalled at this preposterous campaign and cannot suppress our mounting anger."

The Byeonsan County office - whose other schemes to promote tourism included a dog-eating festival, dropped after angry complaints from pet lovers - remains unrepentant.

"I don't understand why they are so angry," said one official. "This is just part of a publicity campaign aimed at promoting the name of the Bikini Beach. We have no intention to exploit or commercialise the female sex."