Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea, is also the country's centre of domestic and inbound tourism. Based on a combination of its rich heritage, including two world heritage sites, and its function as a globalizing modern city, it has attracted foreign tourists especially since Korea hosted the Soccer World Cup in 2002. Recently, a diversification of the tourism product can be observed. This papers aims to identify these new trends and the reasons behind them, based on a discussion of urban tourism in general.
The first trend that could be identified is the creation of new urban spaces and their use for tourism. Since each mayor of the city strives to leave an impact on the city landscape, Seoul has seen a range of large-scale redevelopment projects. Some of them, like the reconstruction of the Cheonggyecheon River, have received international attention and attract professional tourists like urban planners as well as visitors who enjoy the green space in the city centre.
As a second trend, interest in the vernacular urban heritage of the city is rising and the Pukchon Area with many houses built in a traditional Korean style has become the focus of attention for the protection of townscape in a fast growing global city. Visitors stroll the hilly lanes and browse through mall-scale museums and shops in the area, gradually changing the character of the quiet district. The commercialisation of the district thus has become a topic of discussion between inhabitants of the area, city government and NGOs.
A third trend tries to connect to the experience of the World Cup, when Seoul City thrived with people during public viewings of the games. Hi Seoul Festival was established as an annual event and a specialized organisation is now in charge of the festival.
Finally, connecting the above trends, an increased involvement of citizens in tourism and events can be observed. Seoul City has established a system of qualified volunteer guides, and Hi Seoul Festival also operates on the basis of citizen participation.
All these trends have been actively promoted by the Seoul City Government in an attempt to increase Seoul's competitive edge in comparison with other Asian cities. They can be seen as an example of urban tourism promotion aiming to enhance the local character and appeal to the multi-layered structure of a city that is in danger to become just another globalized urban conglomeration.