Hungry to dominate the MICE marketplace, Seoul gets into an Olympic mindset by setting an athletic expansion target by 2020. By Robert Cotter

When the 2020 Olympic Games were recently awarded to Tokyo, it was a stark reminder for budding young athletes all over the world: they had seven years to get into top shape and reach the sporting world’s pinnacle.

Not far west of the 2020 host city, the South Korean capital of Seoul was getting into the Olympic mood by setting itself an equally athletic target over the same time frame. Unveiling the Seoul MICE Master Plan at the 2013 Seoul International Business Advisory Council (SIBAC) in October 2013, the city declared its ambition to jump from its total 60,000 sqm of meeting floor space to a staggering 180,000 sqm by 2020 — effectively tripling current provisions.
In Olympic terms, the Seoul MICE industry has moved into full training mode for its floor space triple jump, and with the Master Plan, it expects no less than a place among the international MICE destination medals.

Measured approach

Prompting Seoul’s triple jump ambitions was some guiding research undertaken on behalf of the city, which in suggesting that Seoul was punching well above its weight, acted as the catalyst for accelerating the Master Plan.
“McKinsey, the global specialised consulting group, suggested in 2012 that the tourism and MICE industry should be developed extensively as Seoul’s future growth engines,” explained Park Won Soon, the Mayor of Seoul. “Seoul’s meeting and exhibition space is only 30 per cent of the average of the top five, so Seoul needs to triple it. The goal is to expand facilities in the metropolitan area, Yeongdong area and Magok area in three separate stages by 2020.”

“The vision for Seoul [in doing this] is to become a leading global MICE city and there are four policy tasks involved in the Master Plan to develop the MICE industry in Seoul,” Mayor Park continued. “These are: development and expansion of Seoul’s world-class MICE infrastructure; expansion of attraction through seeking potential demand for MICE events in Seoul; expansion of added value services for MICE events; and reinforcement of the local MICE industry and its professionals.”

Hop, skip, jump

Implementing these policy tasks will be a key responsibility of the Seoul Convention Bureau (SCB), steered by vice-president Maureen O’Crowley, with the requisite restructuring and commitment to budget already in place to ensure they will be in a position to achieve them.
“There is a specific reference in the Master Plan to expand our scope, so it is great to have this acknowledgment and support from the government,” Ms O’Crowley said. “The first step is that our team will be expanded to create two teams with a dual focus on both planning and bidding. So this will give us more people working in this regard, with further expansion to occur incrementally over the next five years, including potentially into the area of research.”

“We’re absolutely delighted to have all of this support and the go-ahead to move forward,” she continued. “The MICE industry is recognised as an economic driver that is good for the city of Seoul and therefore it’s a positive thing. If we’re going to continue to grow, we need expansion in infrastructure and in professionalism.”
The first wave of this expansion is set to be delivered in the metropolitan area in the near future, with two stunning new facilities – the Zaha Hadid-designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) and the ‘Floating Island’ complex next to the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain Bridge – set to come online in spring 2014. Building on this is also the plan for a new convention centre at Seoul Station, which altogether will provide an extra 40,000 sqm of floor space by 2018.

From then to 2020, the area around COEX (in the Yeongdong area, taking in the adjoining 1988 Olympics main stadium of the Jamsil sports complex and other adjacent sites) as well as COEX itself, will be converted and merged into a gigantic, fully-equipped MICE complex, adding over 80,000 sqm of additional MICE space. As yet awaiting final design, in saying that “Seoul will look to the complexes and facilities of Singapore’s MICE infrastructure when preparing its new MICE infrastructure”, Mayor Park has indicated that a facility to rival the best in the world will be sought for this stage of the expansion plans.
Beyond 2020, there are further plans for MICE facilities supporting industrial research and development to the south-west Magok area of the city, considered invaluable in boosting South Korea’s increasing position as the world’s leading IT and telecommunications state.

Record jump to make the podium

As for the outcome of this triple jump training, Seoul has set its sights on covering a lot of ground in a short time through its Master Plan.
“Seoul will aim to become a global centre of knowledge and economy and a leading global city of innovation, with the latest information and techniques communicated and shared through the MICE industry,” stated Mayor Park.
“The important points of future economic development are knowledge, creativity, dissemination of information, communication and convergence,” he continued. “The MICE industry will function as the platform for the development of these factors that enhances the economy. If this goal is met, it can be stated that the MICE industry will bring growth in the economic, social and cultural areas of this city and in turn will improve the very lives of the citizens of Seoul.”

It will, at the same time, improve Seoul’s international MICE destination ranking. Having been placed a consistent fifth in the UIA rankings since 2011, dedicating itself to this rigorous triple jump training should ensure Seoul takes its place on the podium in the 2020 Olympic year. The only question is whether it will be taking bronze, silver or, as the key players of the Seoul MICE industry will all be hoping for, outright gold. m