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Reminiscence and Reflection on the high growth period of Korean Tourism (1990-2020) from the point of view of a second-generation Tourism Scholar
Reminiscence and Reflection on the high growth period of Korean Tourism (1990-2020) from the point of view of a second-generation Tourism Scholar
  • Chung Byung Woong
  • 승인 2023.09.20 15:23
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30 years is often referred to as the period of one generation. A generation has passed since I began learning and researching tourism in earnest when I entered the doctoral program in tourism in 1992. My relationship with the Department of Tourism began in 1981 when I began learning Introduction to Tourism, thanks to being a graduate student, and continued more than 40 years later. Afterward, I majored in sociology as an undergraduate and did not major directly, but I continued my relationship with Tourism by learning Tourism Policy Theory and Tourism Development Theory. Eventually, when I entered graduate school, I majored in Tourism and studied Tourism as an implicit attribute. Four times (10 years) have changed since I was exposed to Tourism and Tourism studies, and it has been a generation since I studied it as a major.

A generation with Tourism

Our Korean society has changed a lot in the meantime, and tourism, the industry, and tourism studies have also changed and developed a lot. Specifically, with the hosting of the 1988 Olympics, Korean society not only experienced rapid growth in the economy but also improved its global status. This led to the fact that there was finally a measure to fully liberalize in 1989 in the field of overseas travel. Moreover, that year was also the year that Jamsil Lotte World opened. In 1988, the number of travelers leaving the country was 500,000, and in 1989, the first year of liberalization, approximately more than 1 million travelers left the country. In 2018, the year before the coronavirus outbreak, the number of overseas travelers was as high as 28.6 million, which means that 60% of the entire population went on an overseas trip. This was a 60-fold increase in just 30 years.

The democratization has grown along with the growing economy. Starting with the Olympics, the accumulated capabilities and passion exploded into a national power. In this way, a huge rock appeared in the Korean economy, which was on a roll, and it was the so-called IMF bailout. This event at the end of the century, which began in 1997, was a fatal blow to the growing Korean economy. The Korean economy, which has been incorporated into a form of globalization, is experiencing growing pains.

Impact of Mega Events, Emergence of Consumption and Leisure Society

After the liberalization of overseas travel, the leisure industry as a whole, as well as the overseas travel industry, which had been growing by more than 30% per year, shrank significantly. In a rapidly growing economic market, a leading travel business that was easily operated by relying on newspaper advertisements and promotions in a kind of land-and-swim style almost went out of business. Instead, it was an opportunity for the emergence of a newly planned, more rational travel industry. 

Moreover, thanks to the fundamentals that the entire nation has sincerely built up, we were able to escape the bailout in a relatively short period of time. The national spirit of unity in the face of the crisis showed the peak of unity with the hosting of the 2002 World Cup. It was a moment when the entire nation felt one. It was a time when I felt proud to be a citizen of the Republic of Korea. This sense of self-confidence also naturally led to the gradual implementation of the five-day workweek system. All societies accepted the five-day work a week with some certain amount of stress. In other words, if the Asian Games and the Olympics brought a consumer society to Korean society, the World Cup brought a ‘leisure society’ to Korea. It can also be called ‘The impact of Mega Events.’

In the era of Globalization, the Growth of Leisure and International Tourism

As the 21st century economy moves on a truly global scale, the Korean economy endured the global finance crisis once again having started in the United States in 2008, but the constitution of the Korean economy withstood it with ease. Above all, in the early spring of 2016, the 'baduk' match between Lee Sedol and the AI Go program Alpha Go was an incredibly shocking event that had a huge impact on Korean society in the new century. The 4th industrial revolution that has unfolded since then has not only led to the advancement of globalization but has also transformed Korean society more rapidly in terms of quality. This 4th industrial revolution has been especially successful in the tourism industry due to the technological development of artificial intelligence and big data based on smartphones and then, brought groundbreaking changes to the leisure industry. The traditional travel industry centered on the package market declined, and OTA travel agencies centered on multinational companies rapidly increased. Of course, what has changed this trend even more rapidly is the COVID-19 outbreak, which has spread like a fever around the world since the beginning of 2020.

The 4th Industrial Revolution of Digital Transformation and the Coronavirus Pandemic

Although we have formally escaped the coronavirus pandemic, the after-effects are still continuing. 

[Figure] The main events and agenda of Korean society from 1988 to the present












Liberalization of overseas travel


IMF Bailout

Korea-Japan Joint Worldcup

Economic Crisis

Lee Se-dol and AI Robot Go match

Corona Virus Pandemic

Corona Virus Endemic

Transformation into a Democratic Consumer Society

Overseas Package Travel

Region Tourism

Tourism Industry Restructuring

The Advent of the National Leisure Era

Leisure and Tourism



Tourism DX

Destruction of the Tourism Ecosystem

Restoration of Lleisure and Tourism


Currently, the impact of the 4th industry based on artificial intelligence and big data, which is difficult to predict where the technology will go, is still ongoing. Sustainable development and tourism are also hot topics of the times, as our society faces aging, low birth rate, regional extinction, and climate crisis.


Challenges and Hope of the Tourism Industry, and the Tourism in Korea

The summer of 2023 was exceptionally hot. I can't help but think that the Earth has become increasingly hotter, to the point where the heat I experienced in 1994 when I was just entering my teenage years, was insignificant. Sustainable Development and Tourism, which started in advanced countries that achieved industrialization before Korea, have now spread and become systemized into ESG management. However, reducing global warming and carbon emissions from tourism and the tourism industry is still our task. Today, we still have to solve the problems of low birth rates and low growth and create a society in which we live together. It is time to create a healthy and fair tourism industry ecosystem. I sincerely hope that the next generation, the next 30 years, will be a more hopeful generation.


Writer's Brief Resume 


Chung Byung Woong

Department of Tourism Management at Soonchunhyang University

Phone number: 010-3357-0800

Doctor of Tourism at Hanyang University (March 1992 - February 1996)

Professor of Tourism Management at Soonchunhyang University (September 2001 - Present)

Former Chairman of the Korean Tourism Association (March 2019 - February 2021)

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