Rep. Sul Hoon of the ruling Democratic Party held the forum Wednesday at the National Assembly in Seoul.
"All South Korean people wish to visit North Korea. It is my duty to find a way to realize the wishes," said the fourth-term assemblyman, who is also a member of the governing party's supreme committee.
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul sent a message saying, "Individual tourism is not subject to U.N. sanctions. It will make people of the two countries friendlier to each other, thus facilitating the reunification of the two."
Late last month, the Unification Ministry came up with detailed options, which it believes do not violate international sanctions.
But Harry Harris, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, urged Seoul to consult with Washington about the contentious issue, sparking criticism that the diplomat was meddling in the country's internal affairs.
"If Seoul has to get a green light of Washington for the individual tours, Pyongyang would think that the tourists are U.S. spies," said Kim Li-kyong, director of the Association of History and Culture for One Korea, a grass-roots group advocating the reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
"The Unification Ministry should forge ahead with the policy of allowing South Korean people to make individual visits to the North."
Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University in Seoul, concurred. He even asked the South to stop joint military drills with the United States for the next 12 months to enable individual tourism.
"We can resume the military exercises in case North Korea provokes," he said.
In addition to the potential conflicts with the United States, the tourism plan has more obstacles. For one, it cannot work without the approval of North Korea, which has yet to make an official response.
South Korea also has to revise its law, which prevents its citizens from traveling North without a formal invitation from a North Korean organization or state institution.
The outbreak of coronavirus in China and its spread to the neighboring countries is also expected to delay discussion on travel.
In the 2000s, South Koreans were permitted to visit the Mount Kungang resort of North Korea. But a South Korean tourist who walked into a restricted area in 2008 was shot dead by a North Korean soldier. After that, tourism was banned.
One Korea is affiliated with the chairman of the ultimate holding company that owns United Press International.