South Korea boasts of major convention centers and unique facilities to serve the world’s biggest gatherings.
Korean, featuring a state- ofthe-art hologram booth where guests can take virtual photos along with their favorite hallyu stars, and participate in an hansik ( traditional Korean food) exhibition and classes, among others.
“The K-Wave dramas have a greater impact on attracting large incentive groups... Korea will continue to bank on the KWave in attracting MICE groups, particularly on incentive travel, to highlight new places of attractions and other uniquely Korean activities,” Ms. Cho said.
South Korea was ranked the world’s No. 2 destination for global congresses hosted in 2015, improving on its fourth place finish in the prior year, according to the latest International Meetings Statistics Report released by the Union of International Associations (UIA) in June. South Korea hosted 891 meetings, up 40% from 636 in 2014, to corner a 7.5% share in the world’s meetings industry.
Seoul, the nation’s capital, also boosted its long- standing top-five UIA city ranking, rising from fifth to third place with 494 meetings held in 2015; nearly doubling the 249 meetings hosted in 2014.
Likewise, Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city, attained a global city ranking of 11 with 150 meetings, while renowned United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage resort island Jeju accounted for 112 of the year’s meetings, achieving a global city ranking of 19.
The latest UIA rankings highlight South Korea’s ascent in the global MICE stage since the government in 2009 identified the industry as one of the economy’s new growth engines. Prior to that, South Korea placed 12th in the 2008 UIA report.
“Korea’s diversity of shopping, gourmet cuisine, and tourist destinations make it a favorable destination for both business and pleasure. Korea is now a modernized dynamic nation that still maintains its traditional culture,” Ms. Cho said.
South Korea is particularly setting its sights on the international conventions and incentives market, she added, noting that the expenditures of international conference participants are higher by $ 3,100 — or 1.8 times greater — than the spending of a regular tourist.
The climb to the big leagues has not been a walk in the park. KTO had to put up with what it called a “sensationalized” display of national issues that cast doubts on its ability to guarantee the safety and successful implementation of big international events.
“As an example, news coverage of the North- South Korean conflict and the recent [Middle East Respiratory Syndrome] epidemic is assumed to have affected the number of events planned in South Korea; however, in reality, no massive withdrawal nor decrease on the MICE events lined up for this year was seen in the recent UIA statistics,” Ms. Cho said.
Despite its success, South Korea sees a tremendous upside for growth as a MICE destination. Of the 14 million inbound tourists that visited the country in 2014, a rough estimate is that 5% of them were related to the MICE industry, Ms. Cho said.
“With Samsung, Hyundai, and LG becoming household names, Korea is gaining more attention from the science and technology industry. Their technological breakthroughs highlight Korea’s great pool of industry innovators and leaders who are very much willing to address the international community through congress and scientific conventions in the country,” Ms. Cho said.
While China currently dominates South Korea’s incentives market, South Korea is making an aggressive push to lure other countries in order to become a true global hub for MICE.
Southeast Asia, a market of approximately 600 million people, holds a lot of promise for South Korea’s MICE industry. The Philippines, the region’s second fastest-growing economy behind China, is being wooed to take advantage of South Korea’s being one of the nearest winter destinations and its no-Visa travel policy to Jeju Island.
The regional powerhouse is holding road shows in London and New York — the headquarters of the world’s biggest corporations and organizations — to bring major international conferences to its ultramodern MICE facilities, she said.
But for South Korea, there is more to it as a MICE destination apart from K-Wave. With a world-class international airport in Incheon as the main gateway, the Asian giant boasts of major convention centers and unique facilities to serve the world’s biggest gatherings.
Seoul is home to the Coex Convention & Exhibition Center, South Korea’s premier events venue. Four specialised exhibition halls can be divided into 12 separate rooms, and include a convention hall with space for up to 7,000 people. It also boasts of 54 meeting rooms and office space equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and a cutting edge building management system.
Coex has evolved into a leading culture-business platform, with the opening of the Coex Mall, Asia’s largest underground shopping center, in 2014 and SM Town, the multi- purpose cultural space of South Korean firm S. M. Entertainment Co. Ltd., last year. There are roughly 7,500 hotel rooms strategically located within five kilometers of the complex.
Apart from Seoul, South Korea has several other promising MICE destinations, such as Incheon, Gyeonggi, Daejeon, Gangwon, Gwangju, Daegu, Gyeongnam, Busan, Gyeongju, and Jeju — every city being developed to accommodate small- to large-scale meetings and events.
These cities are trying to promote their own individual special characteristics to host a certain field confidently, Ms. Cho said. For example, Daegu — located at the middle of South Korea — projects itself as an ecofriendly MICE destination and has been hosting several conferences on Earth conservation and sustainability. On the other hand, Busan — South Korea’s largest port city — has become a venue of various marine, maritime, and engineering- related seminars and workshops.
Incheon has started to make its mark in the MICE industry. Located at its futuristic international business district, Songdo Convensia hosted the Korea MICE Expo, which brought together over 3,000 delegates including 250 domestic sellers and a record 245 buyers, 170 of which hailed from overseas, particularly China and Southeast Asia.
Gangwon, the top tourist destination for locals, is gearing up to be one of South Korea’s biggest tourist destinations after it finishes hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The government is building several big facilities to accommodate the major sporting events and most of them will be turned into convention centers after the spectacle.
South Korea understands that making each trip personal is equally important for their MICE guests. With full assistance from the government, local governing bodies, and the private sector, MICE groups are provided with complimentary city tours for delegates, airport welcome messages, customized event banners and souvenirs, onsite cultural experience booths, and many other enhancements.
Asia has seen its influence grow in the international stage in recent years and South Korea’s transformation into a MICE powerhouse is a testament to that. The hallyu phenomenon is bringing the world to the Land of the Morning Calm, as South Korea offers something distinct yet still universal for the global audience: a cultural abundance and fluid co- existence of both tradition and modernity.