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Post-Games Olympic Museums in South Korea: A Starting Point to Develop Heritage Sport Tourism?

Special post by Jungah Choi, doctoral student at Clemson University:

The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics closed seven months ago though, in fact, the events were held in three different cities in South Korea: PyeongChang, Gangneung, and Jeongseon. The city of PyeongChang was the main focus of the Games with main Olympic stadium and with venues for many of the outdoor sports which were held at the PyeongChang Olympic Plaza. Gangneung is a neighboring city of PyeongChang with venues primary for the indoor ice sports which were held at Gangneung Olympic Park. Jeongseon was the location for all the alpine skiing events and snowboard events which were held at Jeongseon Alpine Center. Since the end of the Olympics, what has happened to those three places? Two of them are planning to create the Olympic Museums. In the case of PyeongChang, most of the main stadium – except for an the office building – was pulled down and only pentagon-shaped Olympic cauldron remains. Plans are currently underway for the remaining building to host an Olympic museum, in large part to attract tourists to the site. However, this project is delayed due to conflicting opinions about the scale of this Olympic Museum. Meanwhile, in the city of Gangneung, the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on mutual cooperation and collaboration in view of the creation of the Gangneung Olympic Museum. At present, the Olympic Promotion Hall during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games was renovated to temporarily house the Gangneung Olympic Museum. As such, the city of Gangneung is a step ahead of Olympic museum legacy planning. The grand opening of Gangneung Olympic Museum is slated for 2019 and will be located at Gangneung Ice Arena.

PyeongChang stadium now

All that remains of the Olympic stadium is the torch and an office building.

Of course, the 2018 Winter Olympic Games were not first time South Korea has hosted an Olympics, having previously hosted the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul. Almost every Olympic venue from the 1988 Games is still used today. The Seoul Olympic park is used as leisure and sports facility for local residents. The main stadium and other stadiums are mainly used for concerts and various other events. There is also a post-event museum – the ‘Seoul Olympic Museum’. The museum was built in 1990 by Seoul Olympic Sports Promotion Foundation, an affiliated institution under the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, to commemorate the glories and achievements of the Games. This museum consists of three exhibitions themes: place of peace, place of harmony, and place of prosperity and holds a variety of artefacts related to the 1988 Olympic Games, including from from preparation and planning phase, the opening and closing ceremonies, the torch relay, and artefact which highlights important moments from the Games and Olympic achievements. Meanwhile, the Seoul Olympic Museum also hosts many Olympic and sport-related events, meetings, and conferences, and has also been used as an educational centre which hosts sport-related programs for young people. However, at this time, the Seoul Olympic museum is temporarily closed for remodeling to become a National Sports Museum.

seoul olympic museum2

The main foyer of the Seoul Olympic Museum, soon to become the National Sports Museum.

Do you think the Pyeongchang Olympic Museum and Gangneung Olympic Museum are in good positions to be a successful Olympic legacy that will fuel economic growth and tourism for years to come? There is a geographical issue in comparing these projects to the Seoul Olympic Museum. The Seoul Olympic Museum is located in the capital city, specifically close to Gangnam and Jamsil, which are famous tourism destinations for international visitors, while PyeongChang and Gangneung are located in the remote mountainous region of Gangwon Province and are not easy to access for international visitors as they do not have international airports. Another problem is an awareness issue comparing these project with existing Winter Olympic museums in Vancouver and Lillehammer. Many visitors may choose to visit the ‘Olympic Experience’, which is the museum for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, or the ‘Norwegian Olympic Museum’at Lillehammer instead of their Korean counterparts. In the case of PyeongChang and Gangnueng, they are not well known locations for winter sports, which means people may wish to visit the ‘Olympic Experience’ or ‘Norwegian Olympic Museums’ as these locations are closely associated with winter sports. One of the reasons the IOC selected the unfamiliar Korean city for the 2018 event was to spread winter sport to a new part of the world which had not held the Winter Olympics. However, winter sports becoming part of this destination’s identity and culture seems unlikely.

Why then is South Korea is planning to have two new Olympic Museums at different locations? It could be related to commemorate the cities’ Olympic involvement, to keep alive the memory of Olympics Games, to inspire future generations with the Olympic spirit or to enhance tourism development. What about converting these remaining venues to a local recreation center, athlete training facilities, or as centres to host regional/international events, rather creating new Olympic Museums?

South Korea has become the second country in Asia that has hosted both summer and winter Olympic Games, which means South Korea should have consider new forms of sport tourism However, what might be the roles of these Olympic museums in future sport tourism development? The area of heritage sport tourism is a relatively new concept in South Korea. There are currently some sport heritage attractions in South Korea. For example, the World Cup Museum has been changed to Football Faentasium, which is the first soccer-themed experience museum in Korea. The name comes from a mix of the words fan, fantasy, museum and stadium. This theme park includes exciting displays, experiences, and educational lessons. Also, several Korean professional baseball teams (KIA Tigers, NC Dinos etc.,) which occasionally operate stadium tours. Currently, Seoul Olympic stadium has a stadium tours that visitors can visit VIP rooms, exhibitions with donations from medalists, view Olympic posters, and walk along the track. As mentioned, the Seoul Olympic Museum will be expanded to National Sports Museum and opened in 2020 to further commodify the sport museum as sport tourism product.

In terms of PyeongChang and Gangneung Olympic Museums, there are several issues which should be addressed in order to contribute to the development of heritage sport tourism in South Korea. The national government should support Gangwon province to pay for maintenance of these remaining Olympic sites after games, including these Olympic Museums, since the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic was a national event, not a Gangwon event. Also, it would be good idea to create these Olympic Museums not only focus on the Olympic one, but also on Korean culture – including its cuisine, music and cinema – which is well-known and admired worldwide, in order to attract more international visitors and make the attractions more sustainable.

JUNGAH CHOI, is a doctoral student and graduate research assistant in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management department at Clemson University. Her research focuses on sport tourism, especially on post-event Olympic tourism, Heritage through the Olympics and Olympic legacies. She received her bachelor’s degree in Sport Science from Ewha Womans University, South Korea and a masters’ degree in Sport Management from Seoul National University, South Korea.

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