The purpose of this study is to investigate the lexical characteristics of tourism research paper abstracts and to identify major key research trends for the last 15 years. The three target corpora were compiled using the text files of all English abstracts of Journal of Tourism & Leisure Research from 2002 to 2006, from 2007 to 20011 and from 2012 to 2016 respectively. The reference corpus was made of the abstracts from 1989 to 1993. The frequent words of each corpus were identified and key words and absolute key words in each period were extracted by using WordSmith Tools 6.0. The results of the study show that frequent words and key words extracted are related to major tourism topics and key research trends which have reflected the changes of the research subjects over time. This study is expected to be helpful in understanding tourism research papers and tourism research trends.