Exploring the “Personae” of Travel in Korea through Chinese Gen Z Tourists on Xiao Hongshu Social Platform


This research explores the destination persona of South Korea on Xiao Hongshu, a popular social media platform for Chinese Gen Z traveling. The posts from tourists as virtual communities recurring patterns of dramatic structure, textually and visually generated the personae of the destination. In this study, the concept of persona based on Bormann’s symbolic convergence theory is used to illustrate the fantastic theme of South Korea as destination. A qualitative research based on fantasy theme analysis was conducted using semi-structured interviews with 14 participants and images and narrative analysis of posts on Xiao Hongshu. Four fantasy themes were identified: 1) Landscape of ocean blue; 2) Stylish Café; 3) K-pop related culture and fashion; 4) Traditional Korean culture. Those themes create the destination persona of South Korea by and for Chinese Generation Z travellers. It contributes to the destination image discussion by applying SCT and fantasy theme, from the perspective of Chinese generation Z tourist. For practical contribution, this study helps destination marketers better communicate with Chinese Gen Z tourists, using discovered fantasy themes.

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Yin, M. and Sorokina, N. (2023) Exploring the “Personae” of Travel in Korea through Chinese Gen Z Tourists on Xiao Hongshu Social Platform. Open Journal of Business and Management, 11, 768-793. doi: 10.4236/ojbm.2023.112042.

1. Introduction

Social media and virtual communities are attractive important aspects of tourism consumption, it also supports organization creating an image to attract their customers (Abbasi et al., 2023) . The amateur and celebrities accounts made Xiao Hongshu highly used, that it has better visibility in tourism industry, compared to Bilibili, and Sina Weibo (Yun, 2022) .

In this study, fantastic theme analysis is used to identify different fantasy themes in Korea in Chinese social media Xiao Hongshu, depicting their symbolic extensions in visualizing South Korea. Platform performance, fantastic themes, and the personae are debates for Xiao Hongshu as a social platform to answer what is the fantastic theme of South Korea as a tourism destination, and conclude the fantastic theme of Korea, which generated by plenty users on Xiao Hongshu.

Xiao Hongshu (Little Red Book) is a Chinese social media and e-commerce platform that has a similar function to Instagram, and a similar layout as Pinterest, see Figure 1. It was founded in 2013, as one of the fastest growing platforms in China, with 100 million registered active users.

The platform allows users to share videos and photos about fashion, beauty, brand products, food, and more. The company promotes authentic content among the Chinese community, especially Generation Z consumers, to influence lifestyle decisions (XiaoHongShu-About, n.d.) . With the mission to “inspire lives”, Xiao Hongshu assumed their platform to be a lifestyle platform that provides a digital community that lets users discover and connect with a range of diverse lifestyles. The categories of this platform include cosmetics to fashion, food, travel, entertainment, fitness, and childcare, formats including photos, text, videos and live streaming. Food and travel sections are used by Chinese users the most.

Xiao Hongshu as one of the most popular Chinese e-commerce platforms, it has better performance in tourism industry, compared to Bilibili, and Sina Weibo (Yun, 2022) . “Shopping until the last moment of life” is one of the slogans of Xiao Hongshu platform see Figure 2, presents the core concept of this company is commerce. Users generated contents on this platform target to selling and review the products in our daily life, it is more like a fashion magazine with fulfilled shopping guide.

Among Chinese social networking sites, information search and product review functions Weibo and Xiao Hongshu are more evident on and thus likely to influence a wide range of consumer purchases, including travel (Wang et al., 2022) . Wang et al. (2022) examined Xiao hongshu was more influential while users choose destination compare to weibo, another popular platform in China. The vibe of each platform is different, Weibo fulfilled famous celebrities, however, the less professional and celebrities accounts made Xiaohongshu has higher user popularity of visitors.

100EC is one of biggest Chinese digital economic data institution, the online users who use Xiao Hongshu as travelling purpose are increased from 280 billion to 430 billion during 2015 to 2020, as Figure 3. Since 2019, Xiao Hongshu covered 20% of Chinese tourism marketing and becomes to the main access for tourists to make their decision for their trip (Yun, 2022) .

Figure 1. The layout of Xiao Hongshu.

Figure 2. Xiao Hongshu marketing campaign event.

Figure 3. The popularity of online visitors in Xiao Hongshu during 2015-2020 (100EC Report, 2021).

2. Literature Review

2.1. Symbolic Convergence Theory and Tourism (SCT)

Social media and virtual communities are becoming significant aspects of tourism consumption, and they fundamentally change the way people select and consume tourism offerings. Symbolic convergence and tourism (SCT) is a general theory, combining socio-psychological and rhetorical (humanistic) traditions in communication studies, which offers a theoretical and analytical framework to study the process of group formation through communication (Gyimóthy, 2013; Nugraheni et al., 2020) .

Less study applied SCT in tourism social media. Gyimóthy (2013) explored a fraction of the symbolic converging practices of an established Scandinavian rock festival in cyberspace. Derrien and Stokowski (2020) explained symbolic and narrative functions; Nugraheni et al. (2020) built a framework for understanding community involvement in tourism; Gyimóthy et al. (2015) used symbolic consumption conclude with an integrative model (pop-cultural placemaking loop) in tourism; and Mei and Ying (2017) identified 11 fantasy themes of Macau that represented different in various media types.

Fantasy theme is “the oral, written, or mediated discourse of an organization or collectivity looking for recurring patterns of dramatic structure” (Duffy, 1997) . When a number of people come to share a cluster of fantasy themes and types, they may integrate them into a coherent rhetorical vision of some aspect of their social reality (Bormann, 1985) . And the trait of this social reality, called persona of the social media platform in a cyberspace. Persona is the results of the fantasies develop (Ciurel, 2022) , is a final figure of the shared reality.

2.2. Digital Persona

The term persona is applied in analytical psychology by Carl Jung, which portrays a part of self who we want to show to others. From Jung, the persona is a social representation of the self, but denied by the self, opposite to the shadow, the persona is the true personality for the public (Jung, 1991) , which can only be a compromise between the individual and society, yielding an illusion of individuality (Hockley & Fadina, 2015) .

Digital persona, the term that consists of persona and digital, is changed by technology (information communication technology). The persona which applies in the digital world and transcribes into data is different from what we know in the physical world. Thus, the post of travel in Korea can also generate the persona differed than reality.

Digital persona at the beginning, is an agent, or a transcribed data, not directly generating or occupying one’s attention. Until more and more scholars and businesses pay attention to studying and using persona in business, people start to manage their digital profile, care for their self-presentation through SNS. Moreover, people are following these popular digital personae and putting them into daily life.

The term digital persona was first used by Clarke (Clarke, 1994) as a model of an individuals public personality based on data and maintained by transactions and intended for use as a proxy for the individual. Although purpose of the article is to apply digital persona in data surveillance usage, he distinguished terms of “projected persona” verse “imposed persona”, that latter one is created by others, “informal digital persona” verse “formal digital persona” from computer science aspect, later one is which can present by structured data. It also assumes a passive digital persona which includes structural data of representation, and subjective outlooks from others. Active digital persona has all the characteristics of the passive but is long-standing and represented through an objective agent.

According to a definition provided by Clarke (1994) , de Kerckhove & de Almeida (2013) conceive digital persona as an essential part of individual identity that generates a structure that allows for different kinds of action upon digital identities categorized, which involves persona, social, institution, legal scientific and technological aspects (de Kerckhove & de Almeida, 2013) .

Based on the above reference, we can formulate that the digital persona is a result of digital identity. Individuals may accept and create several personae after they identify themselves through ICTs (information communication technology) among other internet users.

3. Methodology

Symbolic convergence theory (SCT) offers a framework that more appropriate for delving deeper into the social dynamics of tourism social media to this study. Fantasy theme analysis as one of the methodologies of SCT provides an approach to dramatist rhetorical criticism.

A qualitative study was thus conducted in this study. According to Table 1, “travel Korea” is the most popular topics among other topics which related key words of “travel Korea” on Xiao Hongshu platform. From 1st of January to 31st of Decembe, 2022, there are 56,357 posts upload on “travel Korea” topics, with 178,886,417 viewed (XH The Database Platform of Xiaohongshu, 2022) .

Thus, one hundreds most popular posts, in the topics of “travel Korea” a from January 1st to December 31st, 2022, were saved by screenshots. After duplicated photos cleaned by program Gemini 2, all the posts classified. The ten categories are animals; cultural; food & drink; historical places; house (indoor) & hotel; houses (outdoor) and garden; mountains & desert; shopping; selfies and personal portrait, borrowed from Brusch (2022) . Until there are no more posts out of these classifications, and the engagement (includes comments, likes, shares and bookmarks) of the posts more than one hundred were selected. Therefore, forty-seven posts are selected to study the fantasy theme of travel in Korea, shown in Appendix 1.

Table 1. Five most popular topics related key words of “travel Korea” on Xiao Hongshu platform in 2022 (XH The Database Platform of Xiaohongshu, 2022) .

The participants were sending invitation letters to Xiao Hongshu users, who are actively post and collected the related posts. Among 27 responded participants, 14 participants are followed a semi-structured interview method, 10 female and 4 male (aged around 21 to 31). The participants selected through Self-evaluate of use frequency, 14 participants score passed 15 points (maximum is 30 points), Table 2 shown the criterion of sample chosen.

The interview took place online, each of the 14 interviews record lasted 15 m to 30 m. Research offers a Korean travel advice as ice break and talk with participants what’s their travel plan or how’s the experience of travel in Korea. Interview was conducting in the participants’ mother language Chinese, while two of them are convenient to use English. To explore the persona of the tourists through the posts, participants followed the interview guide to discuss how do they use Xiao Hongshu as an information collected platform, discuss about the perspective and responses of each post and their interest.

The screenshot of post was archived and the interviews was transcribed and annotated. Additionally, analysis was following the procedure of fantasy theme analysis which allows the understanding of the overall rhetorical vision of the groups as demonstrated in the sites, and the resulting implications for persuasion (Duffy, 2003) . The next section summarizes collected data as embodied in five factors.

4. Findings

When a number of people come to share a cluster of fantasy themes and types, they may integrate them into a coherent rhetorical visive of some aspect of their social reality. Ernest G. Bormann

The fantasy theme constitutes the means through which the creative and imaginative interpretation of events is accomplished in communication (Ciurel,

Table 2. The criterion of sample chosen.

2022) . Except the advertisements, when applied to discussions about the travel in Korea, symbolic convergence theory reveals a rich number of fantasy themes and visions. This section identified four distinct fantasy themes and types associated with the travel in Korea, each with their own different dramatics’ personae, along with recurring symbolic cues and a collective rhetorical vision, that constitutes through contents on social media.

When searching the “Korea” on Xiao Hongshu, there are several popular genres such as travel, food, Seoul, life, fashion, sighting view, study aboard, travel tips. The travel, sighting view and travel tips chose to analysis. There are half of posts are advertisements, because the account is obviously belonging to some destination organization, and the content is company details, not too relevant with Korean journey.

More specifically, this section found 1) theme of ocean blue that the posts of landscape in Korea mostly are seaside with very blue view; 2) a theme of stylish Café; 3) K-pop related culture including fashion; 4) Korean traditional culture through food and Hanbok (clothes).

4.1. Café with Stylish Furnish—Fantasy Theme 1

By far the most popular theme depicted was that a café with a stylish decoration, especially for the people who just enjoy their leisure time on weekends.

Coffee is big lifestyle in Korea, compare to China. Even the coffee segment will generate US$15.34 billion in revenue, the consumption patterns showed 22.4% is for social life, and 75% consumption of coffee is instant coffee (Giulia, 2022) . However, over 13 billion cups drunk in Korea, fresh coffee ranked in second place with 4.8 billion cups. Additionally, South Korea boasts 49,000 coffee shops across the country, more than 18,000 of which are estimated to be in Seoul (Jobst, n.d.) . According to the Food Information Statistics System, 2.154 trillion dollars contributed from Korean coffee marketing (2020). And the high fresh coffee selling showed the different consumption patterns than Chinese marketing. Korean consumers prefer dinning more, and treat the café as a “social drug” (Topik, 2009) . Furthermore, coffee also provides increasing sale value in past decade, shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Sales value of coffee products in South Korea from 2008 to 2020 (Jobst, n.d.) .

Coffee joined Korean people’s daily life was developed earlier than China. In the past 70s century, young people become the main consumer of café shopping in Korea, students and young couples often saw in café, and it present a freedom that they may talk freely and listen to new age music. Coffee also began to expand outside of the traditional drinking store. In the 1970s, the coffee vending machine appeared in offices and universities. This proved to be a profitable business into the ‘80s and ‘90s (Pipunic, 2015) . Nestlé joined Chinses café market since 1988, bring the instant coffee to Chinese customer initially, Chain coffee shop Starbucks has led the way in the emergence of China’s coffee culture in 1999. Compare to Korea where is not cultivating coffee, it has become a nation known for its unique coffee culture. Many cafés have their home roastery. While coffee itself has become important for Koreans, it only plays an ancillary role. The café culture that has arisen from this beverage has shaped the modern Korean culture and became a unique part of South Koreas identity (NeleAE, 2021) . (Figure 5)

Café with a fancy decorating is such an important travel photo to visitors who spend their time in Korea. Even coffee is a small thing, still can be a destination for visitors driving miles away to enjoy. Most coffee shops were located in Seoul in 2019, there were around 76.15 thousand coffee shops operating in Korea (South Korea, 2021) . Yu & Sun (2019) examined a case study in Macau, that Taiwanese cuisine, food from local café, and local snacks appear to be the most Instagrammable on social media (Instagram), that can be a factor of growth market of café industry. Go to coffee is a new lifestyle of young people. The reason is quite obviously, that go to café is a very low cost and high profit activity.

Café is not just about coffee and desert, it is an upgraded living room, where visitors take a rest from heavily schedule, grab some fresh to recover from works, transfer online stranger to offline friends.

Café stores also combine usual and unusual together, which provide a shortcut for visitors experience different. A cup of coffee is a very normal life habit,

Figure 5. Posts about café store in Korea.

but the coffee store as destination has its extraordinary decoration an unusual thing. Visitors experience living in a fancy zone with a cup of coffee cost, which including the price, time. (Figure 6)

Café, take photos, its mostly how I spent weekends. Travel aboard needs too much time and money, we just drive to some café, even it takes 1 hours, 2 hours. As long as I could have good photo to posts.


Im pretty enjoy it, you know, its very chill, it not like travel, but sort of feels like a trip. I mean, you gona go very far away, different than your home and workplace.

ZHAO, male, 23

A nice photo in café is a necessary self-portrait material for modern young people.

In additional, a study room, provides an environment different to home that giving you more possibility of self-improvement leading a different future.

4.2. Landscape of Ocean Blue—Fantasy Theme 2

The second fantasy theme articulated by majority posts on XiaoHongShu is the color of sky blue. The theme is touted repeatedly in the posts on this application, whether it is from a personal social account or a company promotion, because shortages in mainland China was blamed the sky is not blue because of pollution (Díaz & Romero, 2016) , or blue sky represent a nice weather with nice mood, and a famous poem of “Hai Zi” says “Facing the Sea (面朝大海)”. (Figure 7)

Figure 6. A post from presents written “the aim is hang out all the nearby café, before I go back to my home country”.

Figure 7. Posts of theme “ocean blue”.

Since Chinese APEC grey sky blamed by international journalists, blue sky become to a key performance indicator of environments. The Beijing city government issued the results of stricter air pollution standards, and followed public outcry that authorities are understating the extent of smog that often shrouds the capital (Taylor, 2013) . The color blue becomes to a symbol of less pollution environment than the color of green, in majority Chinese people.

In additional, a clear sky presents a clear mind and a good mood, which is important for Chinese visitors. The sky is clear and boundless (晴空万里 in Chinese) has a meaning of the person may spread the wings like a big bird, hover in the sky, to explore the magnificent of the world, and infinite possibilities of own’s future achievement.

And the oceanside are famous by a poem from Haizi that hits the Chinese social media buzzwords for years (Chinese Daily Overseas Edition, 2019) , which says “Facing the Sea With Spring Blossoms (面朝大海春暖花开)”. This buzzword including two parts, the first part facing the sea, represent a positive attitude towards life, that the Haizi (poet) wish own a openminded just wide as ocean, to face his life. The second part Spring Blossoms represent a warm relationship, just like the season when spring flowers blossoms, and there is Haizi last warm, last comfort. Based on “Facing the Sea With Spring Blossoms” goes virus on social media, go to seaside (去看海 in Chinese) stimulate the people travel to ocean, where have the warm comfort from the urban hustle works (CGTN Opinions, n.d.) .

4.3. K-Pop/Fashion

One theme, K-pop related culture, applies to every county, this could be the internet let K-pop culture expended widely. Tourists motivation are highly effected by pop culture (Whang et al., 2016) . K-pop affecting to artists and songs contributed a positive national image of Korea (Bang et al., 2021) , provides the K-pop related culture recommends destination where is some films/epoxides shotting spot, how to meet the idle, and also some fashion clothes store, resemble to k-fashion, and some beauty clinics can also become a “destination” for mainland Chinese visitors. (Figure 8)

Dress like a show. On XiaoHongShu, lots of posts show how they find a resemble shirts of an influencer/celebrates from the dress store, and the key words called Tong Kuan (同款: same shirt). A directly translate showed be same style, however, Chinese consumer prefer the exactly same shirt, the color which one are on the celebrates, would be hard to buy or expensive compare to other same style shirts. There are plenty of business news to show how these Tong Kuan products won the market (Hu & Zhong, 2014) . However such a fantasy chain also based on traditional thought about dress, which said “人靠衣装”, means you are what you dress. (Figure 9)

Looks like a show. Plastic surgery is popular through the internet, and social media are also blamed by this consequence, known as Appearance-related social media consciousness (ASMC) (Choukas-Bradley et al., 2020) . And Korea is the leader of the cosmetic surgery where occupied 25% global market portion. There

Figure 8. The recommendation posts of clothes shop in Korea.

Figure 9. The cosmetic surgery in tourism industry (Plastic Surgery: Visit Korea Plastic Surgery, n.d.) .

are plenty of contents on social media shared about the tips and vlog by visitors about K-beauty related culture. And become to quite popular theme of visit Korea.

Live (background) like a show. The generalizability of much published research on the impacts of drama to our daily like is problematic, especially to children age, it has critical affects in language, perspective-talking and imagination aspects (Mages, 2018) . However, a very superficial phenomenon is that a commonplace become to famous destination because of K-pop culture, a well-known example is a bus stop near the ocean from BTS, 22,272 fans over 137 countries been to that remote east coast for visiting according to a poll. (Yonhap, 2019)

On Korean official tourism websites, there are recommends places where film pupular Korean drama (K-Drama, visitKorea), such as home town ocean chachahca (갯마을 차차차); Vincenzo (빈손조); secret royal inspector & Joy (어사와조이).

Additionally, amounts of posts share the film shotting spot, users put the slot shooting from the drama together with the real spot outlooks, see Figure 10 visitors would like to find an exactly the same position, that can make an almost

Figure 10. Filming spot of K-drama (K-Drama, visit Korea).

similar photos, that make them feel they are in the drama. The posts which including the detail information of the popular drama are easy go virus, people like to know more about those places, and even plan to go visit it one day.

Even though everything relates to show, but visitors are more like pilgrims but not a “do it for show” actor. In other words, the fiction work finds the shortest path to touching the emotions parts. (Figure 11)

4.4. Traditional Experience: Hansik and Hanbok

Another fantastic theme travel in Korea should be taste “traditional” in modern city. Gastronomy is not only about food, but it is a combination of experience, culture, and landscape (Mason & Paggiaro, 2012) . This theme combines the “modern convenient” with “traditional ritual” gives visitors an extraordinary experience.

Though Korea is a modern country, but the traditional food and clothes also hit in modern culture. This theme provides you a tool as time machine, once you put on the traditional shirts and experience the thousand years of history of Korea through the traditional food.

Hanbok played a key moderating role between four dimensions and festival satisfaction (Lee & Lee, 2019) in tourism. Although “traditional costume,” is rare debated in the tourism field, the amounts of posts on social media still can show wear traditional costume is a necessary and worth try experience for visitors travel in Korea.

The posts of traditional Costume and Photography Experience on Xiaohongshu, shared tips about where to find photography stores, nice spot to take photos, how to make nice photos, the angle and the posture.

I will save some photos on xiaohongshu, and when I was there, I would show my friend directly what kind of photo I wantMostly, Id like exactly the same photos on social media.

Figure 11. Posts on Xiao Hongshu of Visit a Film Spots (Participates of Xu).


The posts illustrated an atmosphere about when you wear the Hanbok and stand ahead the traditional building, you are a royal family at the old age, or a character from history story or drama. It provides rich experience than without wearing the customer according to the interviewers.

Once you put the dress on, you are immersed as one of them of the traditional architecture sort of smoothly.


Costume also effects the Time spending. According to the field note, two group of people went to Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁), and the group with costume rent, take another 2 hours for photography and lie on garden. Apparently, visitors would like to spent more time in that location with costume (Lee & Lee, 2019) , until the rent time over, if they do not have the costume on, they leave there earlier.

Traditional Korean food, named as “Hansik” (한식) has it typical layout see Figure 12 Hansik mostly plates in specific way that the centered-on rice, served alongside a bowl of soup and a variety of side dishes (반찬). Most dishes use meat and vegetables as the main ingredients, hansik’s most owning feature is the number of enflamed foods. The most well-known are kimchi (김치), ganjang (soy sauce, 간장), doenjang (soybean paste, 된장), and gochujang (Korean chili paste, 고추장) (Traditional Korean Food : VisitKorea, n.d.) .

Hansik represents Korea more than other dishes as foreign tourists. Gotham (2007) assumed that the image of a place is important people’s perceptions towards the place is formed based on their understanding through the pictures. Posts Hansik on social media is not a theme but also evidence that you have been experience the local, on favors dimension. Plenty of posts on Xiao Hongshu lists the store for Hansik, and other kind of Korean food, and even they would prefer some store capable for Chinese taste.

The plenty of food posts are also reshaping the taste of visitors itself. Social media is one place where visual and social cues meet. There is certainly evidence that if friends in your social network post regularly about particular types of food, it could lead you to copy them, for better or for worse. And research indicates that social media might be changing our relationship with food, making us think differently about what we eat (Brown, 2021) .

The Hansik resembles as another tourism phenomenon in mainland China called “Nong Jia Le” (农家乐) known as farm restaurant, they both presenting their food service with food industry processes in traditional ritualized imagine. Traditional packaging gives customers a high-quality imagine, which can sell the products with a low cost but high price by appearance.

The fantastic theme of traditional experience represents a body of literature (Lee et al., 2019) , that increased spiritual consciousness, and impacts on culture

heritage, especially when visitors in historic inner-city places and found that those who derived a higher level of satisfaction (Yoon et al., 2010) .

5. Conclusion

The fantasy theme constitutes the means through which the creative and imaginative interpretation of events is accomplished in communication. Through the digital persona that tourists pursued on social media, it generated the four themes of traveling in Korea: landscape of ocean blue; stylish Café; K-pop related culture and fashion; traditional Korean culture. Fantasy themes let destination management organization understand the intentions of tourists travel to Korea. Also, the trend of themes can easily be changed by online community, concerning the change of trend may let the destination organization adjust their strategy. The contribution of this study is improving the communication between destination and tourism, and implied the term of “persona” into tourism study. Moreover, Xiao Hongshu is one of the Chinese social platforms, there still some other travel related platforms such as Sina Weibo, moment of WeChat, TikTok, Bilibili. Further studies could examine these platforms which also are popular among Gen Z tourists, to understand the intention behind the market.

However, the content not submitted in topic of “travel Korea” was failed to be collected. Additionally, the posts were only collected during the year of 2022. For longer deeper interview, convenience sample was chosen for depth interview, time and financial limited cannot reach the influencers who have million followers.

In conclusion, this study brings the term of persona into tourism study, and narrates four fantasy themes on social media of South Korea, as a destination. Online posts from Xiao Hongshu generate multiple personae, which gather together as fantasy themes to present South Korea. Those themes lead the tourism marketing while reshaping it.

Appendix 1

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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