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As tensions ease, wartime hotspots draw more tourists

Apr 03,2018
More foreign tourists interested in the history of the conflict between the two Koreas are heading to the South as tensions on the peninsula have thawed over the past few months.

Inquiries over so-called security-related tourism packages jumped more than 190 percent since last year for the period between Feb. 1 and March 25, according to Cosmojin, a central Seoul-based travel agency that caters mostly to high-profile foreign tourists.

Foreign visitors and expatriates have long traveled to the demilitarized zone (DMZ), Joint Security Area (JSA) and Northern Limit Line (NLL) to witness the frozen conflict between the two Koreas firsthand. When inter-Korean relations turn volatile, fewer tourists are willing to visit these locations, where tensions occasionally flare up, according to Cosmojin CEO Jung Myung-jin.

In a matter of just two months, inter-Korean relations have improved dramatically, spurred on by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s charm offensive at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in Gangwon. North Korean athletes participated in the Games and the sister of the country’s leader, Kim Yo-jong, visited the Olympics and met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, becoming the first member of the ruling Kim dynasty to travel to the South.

Cosmojin says the demand for more diverse tourist spots related to the division of Korea is also on the rise.

“In addition to the traditionally popular spots such as the DMZ and JSA, relatively unknown places have been gaining traction recently,” Jung said. “Seoul still has traces of tragic events remaining, and revitalization and promotion of them will help attract more foreign tourists and let us look back on history that should not be forgotten.”

Some of these places include a secret underground bunker in Yeouido, western Seoul, which was opened to the public for the first time in nearly 40 years in October of last year. Now a cultural hotspot run by the Seoul Museum of Art, the bunker was discovered by accident during construction work in 2005. It is widely assumed to have been built for former President Park Chung Hee in case of war in 1977.

Another example of an emerging destination is a hill in Yeonhui-dong, western Seoul. A bloody battle that allowed South Korean forces to retake Seoul was fought over the hill in September of 1950.

Some tourists are also following the route taken by North Korean commandos on their mission to assassinate South Korean President Park in 1968. On Jan. 21, the soldiers managed to get within one kilometer (0.62 miles) of the Blue House before they were apprehended, and only one, Kim Shin-jo, was ever caught. The trail they took from the North, named after Kim, was opened to the public in 2010.


BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]