Seoul on a Roll

South Korea’s cap­i­tal is pos­i­tively mag­netic for global tourism, busi­ness travel and MICE

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENTS -

South Korea’s cap­i­tal is pos­i­tively mag­netic for busi­ness, tourism and MICE

Seoul is boom­ing. Tourism num­bers to the Repub­lic of Korea are head­ing sky­ward and, as most of those vis­i­tors spend time in Seoul, the city is fo­cus­ing ef­forts on cre­at­ing ded­i­cated in­bound tourism strate­gies with an eye to­ward mak­ing Seoul a global model of in­tel­li­gent tourism de­sign.

Plans for ever taller mixed-use tow­ers and ever larger ur­ban pods of din­ing, en­ter­tain­ment, shop­ping, con­fer­ences and busi­ness are on the ta­ble. Seoul is now ri­val­ing neigh­bors in Ja­pan and Thai­land for re­gional tourism dol­lars, and part of the strat­egy is mak­ing sure those rev­enues go into smart plan­ning.

A record 13.5 mil­lion for­eign vis­i­tors landed in the South Korean cap­i­tal in 2016. The num­ber dipped last year fol­low­ing a po­lit­i­cal skir­mish be­tween the US and China, which re­sulted in the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment ban­ning travel to the coun­try (which ac­counts for around half of for­eign tourism to Korea). In 2017 868,881 vis­i­tors from the United States landed in South Korea, ac­count­ing for 6.5 per­cent of the to­tal num­ber of in­bound tourists.

At a re­cent UNTWO meet­ing there in Septem­ber, the Seoul gov­ern­ment an­nounced am­bi­tious goals for growth that would at­tract 23 mil­lion vis­i­tors to the city by 2023. “Tourism is a good thing for the city. We just have to make sure it is done right,” says Jae-sung Rhee, who was ap­pointed pres­i­dent and CEO of the newly formed Seoul Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion last spring af­ter 33 years in man­age­ment at the Korean Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The STO is now a fully gov­ern­ment-run en­tity es­tab­lished to proac­tively re­spond to rapidly chang­ing tourism and MICE mar­kets and boost the city’s com­pet­i­tive­ness. “The Seoul Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion plans to cre­ate more op­portu-

HEART OF SEOUL A city of more than 10 mil­lion peo­ple, Seoul is the fourth largest met­ro­pol­i­tan econ­omy in the world – larger than Lon­don and Paris. Traf­fic re­mains a problem but for­tu­nately there’s a very us­able and smart trans­porta­tion sys­tem to ferry peo­ple back and forth across the Han River. Rides cost a lit­tle more than $1 for most routes in an easy-to-use kiosk sys­tem with op­tions in English.

A key ter­mi­nal, not only for trains but also trans­port to planes, can be found at the World Trade Cen­ter Seoul – a mega-sized, 4.1 mil­lion-square-foot, state of the art con­ven­tion and ex­hi­bi­tion cen­ter oth­er­wise known as COEX. The com­plex sits atop a mas­sive un­der­ground mall with restau­rants, the­aters, an aquar­ium and a cen­tral li­brary, all sur­rounded by some 300 cloth­ing, lug­gage and no­tion shops.

Around the COEX area are some 6,000 ho­tel rooms dis­trib­uted through more than two dozen prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing In­tercon­ti­nen­tal Seoul COEX, JW Mar­riott, Ra­mada, Aloft, Ibis, Novo­tel and myr­iad Korean-branded hos­pi­tal­ity com­pa­nies.

The In­terCon­ti­nen­tal Seoul COEX, is steps away from the COEX world trade fa­cil­ity. With 654 rooms and 11 meet­ing rooms, it is across from and over­looks Bonge­unsa Tem­ple, an oa­sis of peace and beauty as an ac­tive Bud­dhist tem­ple com­pound.

The 379-room Mar­riott re­opened in Au­gust fol­low­ing an $80 mil­lion redo that up­graded rooms and en­larged the ex­ec­u­tive lounge to fit a bur­geon­ing mem­ber­ship de­mand. Nearby, the Novo­tel opened in July with 321 rooms in a high rise that has the ho­tel lobby on the 23rd floor. The rooftop pool space comes with sub­lime city views and is eas­ily avail­able for events.

The Grand In­terCon­ti­nen­tal Seoul Par­nas is con­ve­niently lo­cated next to the COEX Con­ven­tion and Korea City Air Ter­mi­nal and puts ev­ery­thing an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness trav­eler could need within easy walk­ing dis­tance. The prop­erty was ren­o­vated in 2014 and fea­tures 516 rooms, a grand ball­room that is the largest ho­tel meet­ing space in Korea, and 15 meet­ing rooms.

COEX also hosts desks for na­tional and in­ter­na­tional car­ri­ers where pas­sen­gers and their lug­gage can be checked in be­fore a flight. From there it is easy to take a ded­i­cated air­port bus to In­cheon In­ter­na­tional Air­port about an hour north of the city.

Trav­el­ers can also catch a 45-minute ex­press train ride on the AREX from Seoul Sta­tion to both Ter­mi­nal One and Ter­mi­nal Two at In­cheon for around $7 per per­son. The city runs one, of­ten two, trains an hour for this pur­pose. A reg­u­lar com­muter train is also avail­able which takes around 53 min­utes with ten stops along the way. ni­ties to share its projects, di­rec­tion and sta­tus, and lis­ten to the opin­ions of res­i­dents, vis­i­tors and tourism in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als,” Rhee ex­plains. To that end, the STO launched a com­mu­ni­ca­tions cam­paign to take it for­ward: “Value tourism, to­gether with Seoul.”


An­other top spot for both cor­po­rate and leisure trav­el­ers is the 123-story Lotte Tower, the tallest tower in Seoul and fifth tallest in the world – sport­ing the world's high­est glass-bot­tomed ob­ser­va­tion deck in a build­ing. In the mid­dle is the Sig­niel Ho­tel, oc­cu­py­ing the 76th through 101st floors. The Lotte-branded prop­erty of­fers 235 rooms in­clud­ing 42 suites. Rooms above the clouds eas­ily de­liver the most dra­matic panora­mas of Seoul from bed to bath.

Din­ing is an all-day af­fair in the VIP lounge or a masters ex­pe­ri­ence at Bi­cena, a Miche­lin-starred restau­rant at Sig­niel. A star-wor­thy break­fast buf­fet by French chef Yan­nick Al­léno starts the day in the ho­tel’s spa­cious Stay café.

A visit to Lotte Tower can be com­ple­mented by the plethora of shop­ping and din­ing in the labyrinthine mall at ground level and be­low. How­ever be­cause shop­ping is nei­ther the bar­gain nor the cu­rios­ity that it is in many other Asian cities, brows­ing might be more en­joy­able in Seoul’s

Gal­leries, cloth­ing bou­tiques, even cat and meerkat cafes oc­cupy a col­or­ful con­flu­ence of streets

more art­ful districts, such as Insa-dong, or the de­signer malls to be found at Myeong-dong and Dong­dae­mun

Insa-dong brings sev­eral blocks of Korean tra­di­tional cul­ture and crafts, in­clud­ing han­bok (tra­di­tional cloth­ing), hanji (tra­di­tional pa­per), tra­di­tional teas, pot­tery and folk crafts. The area was once a place of study for artists, es­pe­cially dur­ing the Joseon Dy­nasty (1392-1910). Gal­leries, cloth­ing bou­tiques, even cat and meerkat cafes oc­cupy a col­or­ful con­flu­ence of streets rich in tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture, culi­nary tastes and cre­ative tex­tiles.

Myeong-dong is an­other teem­ing shop­ping dis­trict that snakes through the city’s fi­nan­cial hub. Find depart­ment stores, restau­rants, de­signer shops and bou­tiques – and the oc­ca­sional po­lit­i­cal demon­stra­tion. The Myeong-dong Cathe­dral is an at­trac­tion here but the lux­ury shop­ping to be found be­hind street level kiosks is the big­gest draw.

Dong­dae­mun is a top at­trac­tion for in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors, if only for the cu­ri­ous pres­ence of the Dong­dae­mun De­sign Plaza (DDP). De­signed by world-renowned ar­chi­tect, Zaha Ha­did, the seven-floor curvi­lin­ear alu­minum sphere is void of straight lines but chock-a-block with pop-up bou­tiques, per­ma­nent artsy no­tion stores, cloth­ing shops and cafes, and a night mar­ket that comes alive be­tween 11 PM and 3 AM.


Among the ini­tia­tives be­ing launched by Seoul Tourism, plans are afoot to of­fer vir­tual re­al­ity and aug­mented re­al­ity pro­grams on apps and web­sites so vis­i­tors can pre­view must­see places in Seoul and plan their jour­neys prior to ar­riv­ing.

Part of the strat­egy is to en­cour­age vis­i­tors to go to less-seen ar­eas be­yond the shop­ping hul­la­baloo and typ­i­cal sight­see­ing mind­set.

One of those places is the Oil Tank Cul­ture Park in the Mapo Dis­trict of the city. It is one of those truly quirky but wor­thy places with a past. What was for 41 years one of the most pro­tected, top-se­cret spots in South Korea, is a series of mas­sive oil stor­age tanks, each the size of an apart­ment build­ing. It was where oil was kept and would have caused mas­sive havoc if at­tacked. Now that oil is in some other equally se­cret spot, busi­nesses are find­ing the park per­fect for restau­rants, meet­ing spa­ces, expo stages and mu­se­ums.

Near the Dong­dae­mun De­sign Plaza is one of the coun­try’s des­ig­nated trea­sures: He­ung­in­jimun Gate at the outer wall of Seoul Fortress, the largest of Seoul’s eight gates that sur­rounded the city dur­ing the Joseon Dy­nasty.

Much of what vis­i­tors come to Seoul to ex­pe­ri­ence is the cultural im­mer­sion, and Sam­cheong­gak, a tra­di­tional Korean moun­tain re­treat in the heart of Seoul, pro­vides an un­usual event venue to bring this el­e­ment to life. The prop­erty of­fers a serene hanok or tra­di­tional Korean house with out­door gar­dens and views. Tra­di­tional tea cer­e­monies and per­for­mances, ex­hi­bi­tions, ex­pe­ri­ence pro­grams, and meals can all be en­joyed while over­look­ing ex­pan­sive vis­tas of the city. (sam­cheong­

Nearby, the Changdeok­gung Palace that is a UNESCO World Her­itage Site, pro­vides all the sto­ries and up-close de­tails of the lives of roy­alty dur­ing the Joseon Dy­nasty through a choice of tour op­tions.

To ex­pe­ri­ence more “Old Seoul” head to Donuimun Mu­seum Vil­lage that show­cases the trans­for­ma­tion of Korean ar­chi­tec­tural style over the years. An en­gag­ing mu­seum tells the tales with stun­ning ex­hibits within a liv­ing neigh­bor hood mostly in­hab­ited by artist studios and cafes. (dmvil­

No visit to Seoul is com­plete with­out a visit to Nam­san Seoul Tower, a 900-foot pil­lar in the mid­dle of the city. Ac­tive trav­el­ers might want to walk the peace­ful, tree-lined 1.5-mile road to the top or take the ca­ble car from the base. The tower, once a com­mu­ni­ca­tions sta­tion, to­day is home to restau­rants, cafes, shops and mu­se­ums.

Here you can find a han­bok cos­tume ex­pe­ri­ence – dress up like a mem­ber of the Korean elite, circa 1850s, and walk around the ob­ser­va­tion tower or out­side pavil­ions in full re­galia, selfie-ready. The con­cept is played out in tourism ar­eas all over Seoul – even the in­ter­na­tional air­port. For meet­ings or groups, it’s an au­to­matic ice-breaker, a cos­tume party com­ple­mented by Korean court dances and tra­di­tional Silla mu­sic. (heeg­


Trans­port to Seoul’s In­cheon In­ter­na­tional Air­port (ICH) from US gate­ways is best fa­cil­i­tated by United Air­lines, Korean Air­lines and Asiana Air­lines. For more in­for­ma­tion on vis­it­ing Seoul con­tact the Seoul Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion at BT


CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: COEX Mall; Dong­dae­mun De­sign Plaza; liv­ing mue­sums pre­serve older ways of life

FROM ABOVE: Novo­tel roof space; Seoul dish not to miss, Korean Bar­beque

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