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Tourism in Korea will explode because of one untapped resource – nature.

When foreigners (non-Americans) think of New York, they think of uncompromising skyscrapers, broad avenues, plush shopping and a city that never sleeps.  They, like most Americans, forget that New York is a massive state that offers much more than a singular city.  New York is a state of nature, mountains, and a beautiful drive on many of the scenic byways.

When individuals in America think of South Korea, they think of North Korea.  The slightly more informed might envision Seoul. However, like New York City, Seoul is a very small part of Korea. While nearly 50% of Koreans live in the Seoul Metropolitan Area, the area only accounts for 12% of the country.  Furthermore, close to 70 percent of South Korea is mountainous and unsettled, with most of the population being densely packed in the lower regions.  Although the Internet lists statistics determined to make Korea look like the most densely populated country in the world, people are surprisingly sparse where nature thrives.

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With this in mind, a potential tourism boom in South Korea may not stem from amusement parks, cities, cultural experiences, fashion showcases, plastic surgery, or typical sightseeing.  South Korea’s tourism boom is likely to come from the one undeveloped resource that has existed all along- Nature. This is precisely why the Lonely Planet voted South Korea as the third best country to visit in 2013. According to their article,

 South Korea has quietly developed into an outdoor recreation destination with untapped potential in golfing, hiking and fishing. Though not quite undiscovered, few people outside the country know about it. That anonymity will likely fade away in 2013 as it bursts onto the world stage hosting a series of major sporting events.

South Korea looks poised to strike as the new, outdoor capital of Asia.  However, there is a small problem.  South Korea’s outdoor wilderness lacks international exposure and accessible information available to foreigners.  As noted by the blog Korea in the Clouds,

 I’m continually surprised by the number of foreign residents I meet who have never explored the park system (in Korea). And yet, it’s understandable, considering the lack of easily accessible, accurate, English language information.  Before setting off into the hills, most people want to know what they’re getting into, how to get there, how long it will take, how much it will cost, and where to stay.

In regards to increasing outdoor tourism, South Korea must improve both its exposure and accessibility to foreigners.  Fortunately, there is an even greater sporting event on the horizon that will likely garner massive investment in these areas.

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The Lonely Planet mentions sporting events in 2013, but these events are marginal compared to South Korea hosting the Olympic Winter Games (Pyeongchang) in 2018.  The New York Times stated the major reasons for Pyeongchang’s overwhelming popularity included the potential growth for winter sports in Korea and Korea’s ability to host all events within a 30-minute commute from Pyeongchang.  There is little doubt the tremendous economic growth of Korea and its financial commitment to the games influenced the decision, but the convenience provided by Pyeongchang’s surroundings and Korea’s surplus of options for outdoor activities reinforce the notion of Korea’s potential to become a powerhouse for outdoor tourism.

With the Winter Games in the near future, South Korea appears determined to make the proper investments to propel outdoor tourism to new heights.  Nature has always been in Korea, but financing and proper exposure have not.  The right pieces seem to be falling into place at the right time for South Korea to become the new king of the great outdoors.

 Photography from Seoraksan


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Sources Cited

The Independent – Where to go in Asia in 2013

New York Times- Winter Olympics go to South Korea

Korea in the Clouds – A Guide to Hiking Korea’s Mountains

Additional Links

Korea National Park ServiceThe best guide for information regarding Seoraksan National Park.  Make sure to check out the hiking trails.

Skiing in Korea– Busan Haps wrote a great piece on the all of the skiing options in Korea.  This includes skiing locations, directions, and contact information.  Click on this link to learn where to ski and stay in South Korea.