Honing in on South Korea

Wyndham Hotel Group launched four hotels in South Korea this year, three of which are in Jeju. David Wray, vice president, development & acquisitions for the company's South East Asia and Pacific Rim operations, tells Karen Yue why

What appeal does South Korea hold for Wyndham Hotel Group’s hotel portfolio?
South Korea is one of Asia’s most exciting emerging markets. Some 17.2 million people visited the country in 2016 – up from just 13.2 million in 2015, which was a rise of 30.3 per cent.

Many travellers are attracted to the vibrant capital of Seoul, and the island of Jeju. UNESCO-listed and billed as South Korea’s answer to Hawaii, Jeju offers picture-perfect scenery and is home to dramatic volcanic landscapes, underground caves, hiking trails and scenic beaches.

South Korea also boasts some of the world’s largest players in the electronic and information technology industries, creating plenty of opportunities in the MICE sector.

From February 9-25 next year, the world’s attention will turn to South Korea for the Winter Olympics. This is a wonderful opportunity which will boost further tourism interest as the country’s diverse attractions are showcased.

Combine the above with 5,000 years of rich history, culture and incredible culinary experiences and you have a world destination with tremendous appeal. I believe South Korea’s popularity will continue to grow.

Of the four openings, three are in Jeju. And the openings come at a time when inbound tourism is dented by weak China-Korea relations, resulting in Chinese travellers giving the island a wide berth. What is Wyndham doing to fill those new beds? And how successful have your efforts been to date?
Hotel occupancy across the board in South Korea has been affected by the Chinese travel sanctions but we are optimistic that demand will be sustained by other source markets, especially with Korea Tourism Organization’s increased promotions both domestically and across South-east Asia.

Wyndham has a dedicated operations team to support our Ramada and Howard Johnson hotels in South Korea, which provides consultative advice and training to hotel management teams, giving them access to our global resources and campaigns to maximise their business potential. Each hotel is assessed individually to identify the right markets and roll out a concrete sales and marketing strategy.

Howard Johnson Jeju Seogwipo Harbor, which opened earlier this year, has already improved its occupancy to over 70 per cent in the last two months – a great result for a newly opened hotel.

How are these three Jeju properties differentiated? What should business event planners and corporate travel managers know about these three properties?
Our hotels in South Korea are branded under the Howard Johnson and Ramada flags. Our Ramada branded hotels offer full-service hospitality with facilities such as an on-site restaurant, lounge or complimentary continental breakfast, as well as meeting rooms, business services, fitness facilities and Wi-Fi. Guests staying at a Howard Johnson can expect a home-away-from-home experience with warm, friendly service and thoughtful amenities like free Wi-Fi and a complimentary Rise & Dine breakfast.

Being spread out across the island allows us to serve the needs of different clientele – the Howard Johnson in Yeondong offers close access to local offices of Daishin Securities Co., Metlife and Daum Company, providing those businesses with convenient hotel accommodation for their corporate travel needs.

Howard Johnson Jeju Yeondong is located near the Sammu Park metro station. All guestrooms feature private balconies offering panoramic ocean or mountain views. Facilities include an on-site restaurant, a business centre, meeting rooms and a ballroom that can accommodate up to 200 guests.

Howard Johnson Jeju Seogwipo Harbor is located on the oceanfront near the Lee Jung-Seop Cultural Street and Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market. All guestrooms have balconies with ocean or mountain views. Facilities include a rooftop terrace with Jacuzzi hot tubs overlooking the ocean and a meeting room with a maximum capacity of 75.

Ramada Jeju City Hall in the heart of Jeju’s city centre, offers 357 rooms and a halal-certified restaurant. The hotel is less than eight kilometres from Jeju International Passenger Terminal (bus station) and Jeju International Airport (CJU).

Ramada Encore Busan Haeundae is a natural product for business events and business travellers due to its proximity to a convention centre. Will the hotel be looking at entering an accommodation partnership with BEXCO to ensure it benefits from major events coming into the centre? What else is the hotel doing to attract corporate groups and transient business travellers?
The hotel’s proximity to both BEXCO and Haeundae Station, which is right across from the hotel, makes it an ideal base for business travellers to get around the city. The hotel also offers a shuttle bus to BEXCO at regular intervals. We would certainly be interested in an accommodation partnership with BEXCO. The hotel’s management team is currently building relationships with both BEXCO and key corporate clients to drive this segment of business.

Has this hotel secured business events ahead of its opening?
We are seeing a greater percentage of bookings from FITs as they are attracted to our clean and new accommodation and excellent location just five minutes from the beach. There is an increase in MICE bookings in October due to the large-scale events and conferences that are taking place in the city.

Going forward, which other Korean cities does Wyndham have a keen eye on, and would future developments be all MICE-ready?
Thanks to our continued success in South Korea, we know travellers welcome the presence of internationally branded properties in their favourite destinations.

We recently opened the Ramada Gangwon Taebaek, which is the first hotel in Taebaek City to fly an international brand flag offering 305 stylish guestrooms with picturesque mountain or river views. The hotel is located in Gangwon province, placing guests close to the heart of the sporting action at the 2018 Winter Olympics. We see the potential for corporate incentive travel with the resort being a two-minute drive from Taebaeksan National Park, home to a host of popular seasonal activities including hiking, snow rafting and sledding, skiing and Korean folk games on ice.

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