Seoul stands firm as a favourite meetings destination exuding a mix of tradition and modern infrastructure.
BY KRISTIE THONG
South Korea’s capital city has been a strong contender on the regional competitive field in the MICE industry. According to criteria set by the Union of International Associations, it ranks fifth on a global scale for the third consecutive year, with a 10 per cent increase from 2011 to a total of 253 qualified meetings in 2012.
Having established the Seoul Convention Bureau (SCB), the business events marketing division of the Seoul Tourism Organization, only in 2008, vice-president Maureen O’Crowley feels Seoul is pretty good where it is for a reasonably late entrance.
Two major events that were hosted this year include the 13th International Congress of Toxicology in May for 3000 attendees, and the 20th IFOS World Congress in June for 6000.
This June, Korea’s largest meetings industry tradeshow was held at the city’s Coex convention and exhibition centre. The Korea MICE Expo (KME) 2013, organised by the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), drew an attendance of 350 buyers, key industry professionals and media over two days.
“KME has been around for 12 years and has rotated around the country. But for the past few years, we’ve been bidding for the event to be hosted in Seoul and we were one of the organisers,” Ms O’Crowley says.
This year, a shifted focus to develop the overall tourism package of Korea has led to the withdrawal of STO as an organiser of KME. However, Seoul held a significantly larger presence on the show floor, and 33 of its MICE alliance partners, comprising hotels, venues, PCOs and DMCs, were present at the STO booth.
“We’ve always been an exhibitor, but this year we went all out. We’re trying to put the focus on Seoul, because we are the capital city and enjoy 50 per cent or more of all meetings. So we want continued interest.”
STO and the Seoul Metropolitan Government were also the hosts of KME’s welcome gala dinner at InterContinental Seoul Coex Hotel on the first night, which included a sampling of Korean cuisine and a masterful showcase of Korean martial art taekwondo.
Ms O’Crowley says the dinner is a way of supporting KME as an industry event, and to continue to play an advocacy role in highlighting the importance of MICE.
Korean pop star PSY’s music video, Gangnam Style, drew worldwide interest to Gangnam and officially placed Seoul on the map. Riding on the curiosity, STO launched its own informative video which drew attention to the popular attractions and meetings infrastructure of Gangnam, a major business and tourism district of Southern Seoul. Released late November last year alongside a social media promotion on STO’s MICE Facebook page, STO encouraged event participants to share their thoughts on Gangnam.
The winner of the promotion campaign was Tyra Hilliard, an associate professor at University of Alabama, who incidentally attended KME 2013 as a guest speaker at the IMEX-MPI-MCI Future Leaders Forum using the round-trip tickets she had won.
“Obviously ‘Gangnam Style’ wasn’t designed to be a viral video, but that’s exactly what it became – the ultimate viral video for Korea,” SCB PR coordinator Alex Paik says.
On competition, Ms O’Crowley does not see the rest of Korea as much of a threat.
“Certain cities in Korea are attractive, but overall infrastructure is still lacking, and as long as we continue to enjoy the competitive advantage we have as a capital city, we aren’t going to have any competition per se,” she says.
Instead, she believes the competition is further away.
“You want to say that your competitors are in Asia, but I feel our competitors are further away. I believe Asia needs to stand together, and we need the focus on Asia, because when we turn the attention to Asia we all stand a much better chance of winning.”
With new attention drawn to Seoul thanks to Gangnam Style, STO launched a tourist information centre in June in the luxury shopping and medical-centric Apgujeong of Gangnam for international visitors.
Operated by STO, Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Gangnam District Office, the two-storey centre is aimed at helping to expand tourism infrastructure by offering general services such as currency exchange, reservation facilities, ticketing, luggage storage and the purchasing of transportation cards. The first floor is dedicated to information on medical tourism, while the second, the K-Wave Experience Zone, provides fans with various interactive stations featuring their favourite Korean celebrities.
New meetings venues and hotels in the city are also in the pipeline. A popular tourism and shopping district, Dongdaemun, is expected to rise in prominence, with the launch of both unique meeting venue Dongdaemun Design Plaza and the JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square hotel next year. In 2016, Dongdaemun will also see the launch of a Hyatt Place property.
Just like many other Asian markets, Seoul is focusing her efforts on attracting incentive groups, particularly from neighbours Japan and China.
Ms O’Crowley feels the advantage of Korea is its ability to cater to groups coming from all parts of the world.
“The Asians who are used to having a very old culture don’t tend to be impressed by old things. So Asians come here for the modern, trendy, futuristic Korea. Whereas I would say that people from the Americas or Europe are looking for an Asian uniqueness to it. They’ll want to see the palaces, and things traditionally Korean. You can still find traditional Korea, and it’s the important thing – for people to always hold on to their heritage and their culture,” she says.