Niche industries and booming infrastructure are giving South Korean destinations a chance to welcome MICE business, discovers Hannah Koh
Young, vibrant and heartbreakingly sleek, South Korea’s industries, much like its popstars, are going from strength to strength. The country has been quick to leverage this, along with a boom in infrastructure, to promote MICE beyond the regular destinations.
South Korea hosted 635 international conventions and meetings in 2013, according to UIA. ICCA also found the country to have welcomed 260 meetings in 2013, the 12th largest number in a single country that year. Pointing out these data, Minhong Min, executive director of the Korea MICE Bureau, said: “By any report, we are jumping.”
He said the “number one” factor setting South Korea apart from other meeting destinations is the Korean pop culture wave sweeping across Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
He continued: “Second, we have many newly developed infrastructure. Ten years ago we only had four convention centres. Now we have 14. Regional cities compete with each other to host international events, resulting in a higher level of service. We spent US$20 million in the MICE industry last year.
“All our industries are seeing upward growth, especially the medical sectors and medical association congresses. There’s been a big increase in incentives from China and Asia.
“Our policy is to focus (on promoting destinations) outside Seoul, so we provide incentives for other destinations. Seoul is an Asian hub, but to extend stays in (South) Korea, we are promoting other destinations like Jeju and Busan, both also popular for MICE.”
The bureau also thrusted lesser-known destinations Daejeon, Gunsan, and Incheon’s Songdo City in the spotlight during a recent media fam trip. All three destinations are beneficiaries of a determination to add more space, facilities and hotels for MICE, each with its own niche industry.
Daejeon for one, besides being a major transport hub for its location in the heart of South Korea, is a kind of brain bank for the country with the host of research institutions, high-tech companies and universities that have found a home there.
The major focus of the Daejeon Convention Center (DCC), opened in 2008, is thus on conferences.Angeline Park, manager, convention marketing team, Convention & Visitors Bureau Daejeon, Daejeon International Marketing Enterprise, which runs the convention centre, said over 600 conferences and exhibitions are held at the venue a year, including domestic events.
Some events scheduled for 2015 include Pacific and Asian Society of Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery, and International Comic Artist Conference.
“We are building an entertainment and F&B complex, to be opened in 2018/2019,” revealed Park. The complex will replace the existing DIME Exhibition Hall adjacent to DCC.
More conferences could also come from neighbouring Sejong, a new town that was constructed to be South Korea’s other administrative capital. From Daejeon, the mega government complex in the new town is only 20 minutes away, said Park.
On the other hand, Gunsan in North Jeolla was a big port city 50-60 years ago, and now has the largest industrial complexes in South Korea, with car production and sustainable energy being two key industries.
The Gunsan Saemangeum Convention Center (GSCO) was launched in July 2014, and has since hosted tradeshows and fairs related mostly to heavy machinery and cars. It is the latest addition to the exhibition hall – large enough for 160 booths – that opened in 2004, and an annex building that began operations in 2007. Renovations of the annex building will start in August to add nine rooms for up to 250 pax each.
Rental rates for exhibition hall and meeting rooms are 30 and 50 per cent lower than other cities, respectively, said Trudy Baek, MICE business team assistant manager, GSCO.
Asked what prompted the decision to build the facility, Baek said: “Gunsan has a good logistics system, and industrial tradeshows would be the next ‘food’ for the local economy. All regional governments (in South Korea) are very interested in MICE.”
The city also saw the181-room Best Western Gunsan open last year.
Meanwhile, a bright spark on Incheon’s horizon is ‘smart city’ Songdo, home to some 450 MNCs, and the G-Tower where the UN has housed a good number of its offices.
Maureen Kim, director of Incheon Convention Visitors Bureau, said: “Songdo is good for international businesses and organisations as it is close to both Japan and China, and we have set up a team to host such events. Our plan is to attract organisations to set up (HQ) in the city and then have them extend invitations to counterparts to hold meetings here.
“Since 2008, we have targetted getting more UN meetings. By end-2013, we had hosted the Green Climate Fund organisation HQ meeting, the Association of World Election Bodies, and World Bank events.”
Kim said having dealt with such large-scale events is an advantage when attracting association business, and the presence of UN organisations and meetings in Incheon is a key differentiation point.
Songdo’s main large-scale venue is Songdo Convensia Convention Center, opened in 2008. Plans are underway to double the space at the centre within the next three years.Some events confirmed in 2015 are the UN Development Cooperation Forum and World Education Forum.
Songdo was also one of the venues that hosted the 2014 Asian Games that took place in Incheon. Sheraton Incheon Hotel and Oakwood Premier Incheon were fully booked out during the event.
Min opined: “Meetings on their own are not attractive anymore and we need to offer something new and different. For instance, during the 95th Lions International Convention in Busan in 2012, (South) Korea provided health checkups, and over 300 delegates signed up even though they had to pay for it. We combined Industry A and Industry B to provide a different service.
“Corporate meetings tend to be small, with less than 100 pax. With the development of South Korean industries, there will be a bigger need for corporate meetings.”
Sheraton Incheon Hotel general manager, Richard Suter, suggested: “South Korea could develop the kaizen idea from Japan (for more MICE business), where there are tours to see how companies work. But obviously that depends on how open the local companies are.”
2D1N history tour in Incheon
Begin at Donghwa Village and its brightly painted streets depicting popular fairy tales. Photo opportunities abound here.
Then head to Chinatown for the array of food sold along the street. Try the most famous Chinese-Korean dish, jjajangmyeon, after which the history of the black noodles can be learned at Jjajangmyeon Museum.
Next, unwind at South Korea’s first Western-style park, Jayu Park, watched over by a statue of US general Douglas MacArthur, before dropping by Incheon Open Port Museum, a former Japanese bank building, for a deeper understanding of the city’s history. Next is Incheon Art Platform, comprising 13 buildings from the 1930-40s now used as art and design studios, archive centres, and education and performance halls.
End the day at Sinpo market, which dates back to the late 19th-century. Sample its most famous dakgangjeong, a Korean dish of crispy fried chicken coated in a sweet and spicy sauce.
Start off at Wolmido Amusement Park offering various rides and an indoor children’s playground.
Next, head to Wolmi Culture Centre for a taste of traditional Korean life and then to Wolmi Park, once a military base and site of the Incheon Landing Operation during the Korean War. Wolmi Observatory provides scenic views of the area while Korea Emigration History Museum offers insights into the eponymous subject.
Then move on to Yeonan Pier, the starting point for all coastal passenger ships bound for numerous islands in the western sea, and the nearby Incheon Fish Market.
Finally, at Jung-gu District Culture Hall, enjoy nonverbal show Bibap, a mix of beatboxing, a capella, acrobatics and martial arts as two sous chefs clash in a bibimbap cook-off.
Itinerary by Incheon Metropolitan City Department of Tourist Promotion
Need to Know
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Dongdaemun Design Plaza is an otherworldly monolith that rises up sleek and silver in the heart of Seoul’s commercial shopping district. It is the world’s largest 3D asymmetrical architectural structure and conceptualised as Seoul’s epicentre for the design and arts industries. Launched on March 21, 2014 with the 28th Seoul Fashion Week, the plaza is open 24 hours a day. Event spaces include the 4,852m2 Art Hall comprising Art Hall 1 and 2, and the International Conference Hall; the 7,928.5m2 Learning Center; and 8,206.1m2 Design Lab. There is also the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park, and the Design Market public space.
Incheon City Pass
Launched in September last year, the Incheon City Pass is a stored value card that can be used not just in Incheon but also Seoul, Gyeonggi-do, and Busan. Besides offering discounts on dining, attractions, concerts, accommodation and shopping, the card can be used to pay transport fares. Cash refunds for remaining value can be obtained before leaving South Korea. For more information on the pass, visit www.k-pass.co.kr or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Gyeong Won Jae Ambassador Hotel
Situated in Songdo Central Park, Gyeong Won Jae Ambassador Hotel, Incheon is a Korean-style traditional hotel that will allow guests to enjoy the tranquility of its surroundings while contemplating the beauty of ancient Korea. The hotel takes its name, Gyeong Won Jae, from Incheon’s former name during the Goryeo Dynasty. Opening this May, it will offer two Presidential Suites, 12 Deluxe Suites, 16 Standard Rooms and a Gyeong Won Roo banquet hall for up to 250 pax.
Songdo Central Park Hotel
Songdo Central Park Hotel, Incheon is a five-star hotel that opened last September across the street from Songdo Central Park. It offers 300 rooms, free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, a swimming pool and a fitness centre. Event spaces include the Ruby Hall and Emerald Hall for combined capacity of 300 pax, and the Sapphire and Diamond Halls to seat a total of 730 guests. The hotel is 15 minutes’ drive from Songdo Convensia and 35 minutes’ from Incheon International Airport. Email: email@example.com
Geumgang Migratory Bird Observatory
The first of its kind in South Korea, the Geumgang Migratory Bird Observatory in Gunsan rotates 360º to provide visitors with views of the Geumgang Estuary, where migratory birds rest in winter. There is also a bird park, museum and incubation experience centre. It is also one of the venues of the annual autumn Gunsan International Migratory Bird Festival, which offers a popular birdwatching tour until end-February. Call (82) 63-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese).
Picture by imstocks/123RF.com