Iowa State professor brings international tourism experience

SoJung Lee is one of the first researchers to study the impact that fandom — the fascination with public figures — has on tourism.

“My husband is in the entertainment industry in Korea and he works with celebrities and I have had chances to see so many crazy fans,” said Lee, an Iowa State University assistant professor in apparel, events, and hospitality management.

“I was always wondering why [the fans] travel to Korea so many times and why money doesn’t matter for them, even if they are not rich,” Lee said. “I looked at pop-star fans and their attitude and behaviors with tourism.”

So far, Lee’s research has found that a high degree of fandom has a significant effect on travel satisfaction and destination loyalty.   

Lee said she will continue to include fandom research in future articles that she publishes. She is analyzing data collected from her initial research to apply to new papers.

“I’m going to look at [fandom] constraints, like why it is important for fans to travel or not,” Lee said.

Studying eating habits on the road

Lee teaches undergraduate and graduate-level courses in hospitality management at Iowa State. She brings a mixture of domestic and international experience. She received her Ph.D. at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and is a former resident of Seoul, South Korea.

While at UNLV, Lee identified how food can influence tourism by looking at how business travelers eat when on the road for work.

“I assumed business travel is routine in their life and I found that [business travelers] try to stay on a diet,” Lee said. “It’s an indication that the hospitality industry needs to reflect that trend.”

Lee has also worked in conference hospitality and marketing, both in Seoul and for the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

“[At the World Cup] I had the opportunity to work with delegates from all over the world and to organize volunteers,” Lee said. “It was a great opportunity for me before I came to the United States for my master’s.”

She said working with doctoral students in the distance education program is one of the highlights of her position at Iowa State. She serves as the major professor for four graduate students.

“I get a lot of opportunities to go to workshops to help with research presentations for Ph.D. students,” she said.

Iowa as a tourist attraction?

Bob Bosselman, professor and chair in apparel, events, and hospitality management, said Lee’s tourism experience has been a great addition to the faculty.

“We see significant opportunities in tourism research, both in Iowa, and outside Iowa,” Bosselman said. “Dr. Lee has already made significant adjustments to how our tourism course is presented, and she has developed a graduate-level tourism course, which was long requested.”

Lee teaches tourism management and she said she quickly found having students without a lot of travel experience proved to be a challenge.

“I share a lot of experiences about the industry,” Lee said. “The first year, I found out many students are from Iowa and they haven’t really had a chance to get out.”

Bosselman said he has noticed many students being attracted to Lee’s work.

“Although tourism is not as dominant in the economy of Iowa as in other states, we wanted to add a tourism-oriented faculty member to our team,” Bosselman said. “She has already been requested to serve on several graduate student committees and she has produced several papers since arriving here last fall.”

Lee is working on a project highlighting Iowa’s natural resources as a tourism attraction. She said she wants to focus on the educational advantages of these resources.

“I just started to develop research seeing what kind of ecological and educational benefits [Iowa] has,” she said.


SoJung Lee, assistant professor, Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management, Iowa State University, 515-294-8990, sjlee@iastate.edu

Bob Bosselman, professor and chair, Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management, Iowa State University, 515-294-7474, drbob@iastate.edu

Matthew Leimkuehler, graduate assistant, College of Human Sciences, Iowa State University, 515-294-9424, hswriter@iastate.edu