Photos = Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Dec. 22 released this year's list of eight "Korean Tourism Stars" including Suncheonman Bay National Garden, the hit K-drama "Extraordinary Attorney Woo" and soccer superstar Son Heung Min.
The ministry and Korea Tourism Organization on Dec. 22 jointly hosted the annual ceremony for the awards at Topaz Hall of the hotel Shilla Seoul in the capital's Jung-gu District.
The main category saw winners selected for the first time through a people recommendation system. The awardees were the national garden in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do Province; Haeundae Green Railway and Beach Train in Busan's Haeundae-gu District; Yeongok Solhyanggi Campground in Gangneung, Gangwon-do Province; and a riverside hiking course and Jando Trail of the Hantanggang River in Cheorwon-gun County, also in Gangwon-do.
Special awards went to the hit Netflix series "Extraordinary Attorney Woo," national soccer team captain Son, Wow Mitan Youth Cooperation Association and a destination management organization (DMO) in Hongseong-gun County, Gyeonggi-do Province.
Designated a "tourist spot with exceptional appeal," the garden at Suncheon Bay, one of the world's five coastal wetlands, was the country's first national garden with 505 species of trees and 113 of flowers to offer a unique atmosphere in all four seasons. This venue will also host in June the second Suncheonman International Garden Expo.
Built in 2013 on a closed railroad in the southern region near the East Sea, Haeundae Green Railway and Beach Train in Busan was chosen as a "tourism attraction creating new value through creative content and innovative ideas." More than 1.2 million people rode the train this year.
Located near the scenic East Sea and fragrant pine forests, Yeongok Solhyanggi Campground in Gangneung was honored as a "tourism attraction with sufficient consideration for those with special tourism needs." This site was praised for building inclined paths for disabled people, infants, pregnant women and the elderly, making facility improvements such as installation of caravans with tactile and voice information boards for disabled people, and developing specialized content for tourists with special needs to allow everyone to comfortably enjoy camping culture.
Hantangang Columnar Joint Path and basalt valley in Cheorwon-gun was named the top "new promising tourism attraction with growth potential." Since opening in November last year, the site has seen over a million visitors over a yearlong period. The hiking path on the newly built floating bridge over the Hantangang River offers scenic views of the river each season. Visitors on the path along Jusangjeolli Cliff can enjoy a spectacular view of the tension between the valley and rocks from the sky.
The hit series "Extraordinary Attorney Woo" received a special award as a "program promoting tourism through broadcasting." This drama stimulated regional economies as its shooting locations such as the gimbap (seaweed rice roll) store in Suwon, Gyeonggi-do, became popular tourist spots.
Sports icon Son was named "a person of merit who contributed to the promotion of tourism in Korea overall through pop culture." As an honorary ambassador for Korean tourism since July last year, he raised the nation's image abroad by treating Korean food and introducing tourist destinations to teammates when his English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur visited Korea in July this year, the squad's first such trip in 17 years.
The winners of the award for "entities running tourism businesses that are highly sustainable both environmentally and socially" were Wow Mitan Youth Cooperation Association and a DMO in Hongseong-gun.
Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Park Bo Gyoon said at the ceremony, "This year's winners of 'Korean Tourism Stars' awards are playing a core role in leading Korean tourism."
"I applaud the imagination of Suncheonman Bay National Garden, which offers incredible views of a natural garden that forms an entire city; Cheorwon-gun County, which created trails to offer intense views of columnar joints and cliffs, and Haeundae-gu District of Busan, which injected new life into a closed southern area railway in the East Sea and captured the romance of the sea in a tourist train."
Since 2010, the awards have honored tourism resources, individuals and groups for contributing to the development of Korean tourism.