South Korea's tourism industry is now being partially molded by the country's pop culture soft power (otherwise known as hallyu), which includes a wide array of music, films, tv dramas, fashion, food, etc.
Later this year a 85,400 sq ft Hallyu museum will open up at world famous Incheon Airport in Seoul, in the International Business Complex, tracking the works of Korean pop groups, musicians, and actors along with showcasing Korean cuisine and fashion.
Now SM Entertainment, one of Korea's largest entertainment companies (this is where Girls Generation comes from), has acquired BT&I, perhaps the biggest travel agency in the country. Travel and entertainment may seem like an unlikely combination, but since Korea's pop culture has been driving tourism to the country even more than the Olympics did, it's obviously a choice that was pretty easy to make for SM.
If you've been to the upscale Apgujeong neighborhood of Seoul, chances are you've seen the SM Entertainment headquarters. They've renamed BT&I travel agency to SMTown Travel, and will offer a private lounge for clients located just upstairs from their popular norebang (karaoke studio) called EverySing.
Soft power is so intrinsically connected to cultural tourism now that global travel is at its most streamlined. While the Hallyu museum may not be targeted to Koreans themselves, the main point will continue to be to spread this pop culture to foreigners, many of whom are already interested in the genre. Korea has seen a spike of foreign tourists in recent years, many of whom attribute Korean pop culture as the catalyst for visiting the country.
SM's acquisition of Korea's largest travel agency also signifies the nation's serious investment in hallyu, as Korea's Tourism Organization (KTO) has clearly embraced this method of reaching out to the tastes of younger generations across the globe.
This super-capitalist, pop culture driven explosion is one of the Korea's most interesting attributes right now. Decades ago, during the country's more humble times, it was probably unfathomable to hear about an American midwest girl moving to Korea because of her love of Korean pop culture, but times have changed--and young people are clearly looking to experience their tastes and fantasies in any way possible.
None of this comes as a surprise--see my Huffington Post piece on the Kpop wave.