The popularity of Korean soap dramas is a global phenomenon, and Seoul’s tourism officials, who had been searching for a new direction, were right on top of this blossoming affection for Korea and made the entertainment industry one of their new products. The love affair with the Korean soap dramas forged its roots in Asian countries but is now growing outwards to other continents as well, and its fan base includes people from all walks of life at various ages.

At its 2nd Annual Seoul Tourism Awards held on June 4 at The Shilla Seoul, of the top four awards given at the event, three went to celebrities in films and television. The awards portion of the evening was fashioned like a red-carpet event with presenters handing over gleaming, glass awards to recipients, all the while broadcasting the ceremony on two grand, Hollywood-sized screens.

Except for Hollywood, Korean male celebrities are now among the highest-paid actors. According to the South Korean media, Bae Yong Joon, soap drama star of Winter Sonata, brings in US$5 million per film. Big-screen Korean stars pull in over twice that much, and there are at least nine other Korean male stars who earn more than US$10 million a year.

Korea’s favorite soap drama star, Ryu Si Won, took home the award for the Best Korean Star Promoting Seoul Tourism. He has also been working in Japan and said, “I wasn’t sure I was doing it right in the beginning, but as a result, many of my Japanese fans have come to Korea to see me.” Ryu Si Won has been the promotional ambassador of Korean tourism and culture since 2006 and attracts 12,000 foreign tourists annually.

Yoon Seok-ho, South Korean producer and director, was given an award for the Best Overall Contributor to Seoul Tourism. He manages his own drama company, Yoon’s Color, and is the producer of the “Four Seasons” drama series – Autumn in My Heart, Winter Sonata, Summer Scent, and Spring Waltz.

The Best Foreign Star Promoting Seoul Tourism award went to Toyoda Kazuyuki from Japan who was appointed as the honorary ambassador of Korean tourism earlier this year. Toyoda, a transgender make-up artist known as Ikko, is a popular TV personality in Japan who has promoted Korean products on Japanese television programs, which in turn made Korea a destination for beauty tourism. His travel guide book, “Make Your Beauty Up in Korea,” attracts Japanese female tourists to Korea to experience Korea’s shopping, food, cosmetics, and tourism sites.

Keynote speaker at the Seoul Tourism Forum, Dr. Yoon-Dae Euh, chairman of the presidential council on nation branding, said, “Koreans are very emotional and warm people – interesting and strange.” Perhaps it is this mixture of characteristics that draws in Korean soap drama fans to its shows. Whatever the components are to the ever-growing appeal and success of the Korean soap dramas, it is clear they are changing the way foreigners perceive Korea in a good way.

While some viewers are embarrassed to admit that they watch Korean dramas, the growing world fascination for this specific form of entertainment means many are no longer ashamed to declare that they are hooked on the dramas. In fact, some restaurants in Korea show the soaps on strategically-placed TVs, so loyal fans may dine out without having to miss an episode.

For more information about Seoul, go to the Seoul Tourism Organization website at or call +82-2-3788-0800.

For more information on Korean soap dramas, ask some people you know – you may find some closet fans!