Strengthening foundations, broadening reach

Seoul Convention Bureau (SCB) is strengthening connections with the global business events industry and building a close network for local stakeholders as it steps into the future with optimism, reveals director Eun-mi Kim

What’s the general sentiment of the business events industry in Seoul right now?
Unfortunately, many global events that were supposed to visit Seoul have been postponed or cancelled, and the situation (from 2020) seems to continue this year. The World Forestry Congress, a large international conference scheduled to be held in Seoul this year, (is among the events that have been) postponed to next year.

Nevertheless, since the onset of Covid-19, Seoul’s MICE industry has been focused on digitalisation, which equates to implementing advanced technology in the sector, especially for virtual and hybrid events. For every virtual or hybrid event we do, the next one seems to be more sophisticated, requiring a higher level of participant immersion, which we try to build upon.

The industry is doing its best to survive and prepare for the future. Although the future is uncertain, there are many enquiries and even group bookings coming in for 2022.

Many companies have learnt to utilise online resources to sustain their business such as replacing site inspections with the filming of tourism attractions and venues.

How is SCB helping to revive the industry?
Major projects this year for SCB include supporting hybrid international conferences using advanced zero-contact technology; ensuring safe on-site events with all protocols and safety measures in place; and hosting a MICE content development contest for the new normal.

Last year, SCB created a 3D virtual conference platform named Virtual Seoul, which successfully hosted the UIA Virtual Round Table Asia-Pacific 2020. We plan to attract and host more of such conferences.

SCB is also offering specialised PCO training for university students to increase (the country’s) MICE talent pool, and has offered a specialised programme to help PCOs strengthen their skills in a global market. Financial support has also been extended to 34 exhibition organising companies to aid them in implementing advanced technology (zero-contact solutions) so that they can host larger-scale exhibitions of international standard.

What is SCB doing to remain top of mind among overseas event organisers?
SCB has been strengthening its network with international organisations such as ICCA and ASAE, and is in ongoing consultation with global agencies such as GainingEdge on how to improve the business.

In December 2020, SCB was the first Asian city to join the Hybrid City Alliance. There, we share information with other members such as the convention bureaus of Hague, Geneva, Prague, Ottawa and Durban, all of whom will work together to promote and facilitate the delivery of hybrid and multi-city events.

This inter-city cooperation will go a long way in helping us develop multi-hub events solutions.

With the world moving towards hybrid and virtual events, do you think that international events in a different country will still hold allure in the future?
I think it will still be attractive to hold international events in a different country because each destination will always have its own local charm. For example, local experiences such as Seoul’s food and trendy K-Culture cannot be taken out of the city physically and be transformed into a digital product. It just does not work that way.

But in the future, the attractiveness of a city or region as well as its health and safety measures will have a greater influence on delegates’ decision to participate in on-site events.

I also strongly believe that vaccination passports will help in the recovery of the MICE industry, once restrictions on cross-border movement are eased.

The road to recovery will certainly be an arduous one. How long do you think it will take for Seoul and South Korea’s business events industry to recover?
Vaccinations in (South) Korea are expected to be completed by the end of this year, with larger on-site MICE events expected to resume around November or December.

I project that the recovery of Seoul’s – and South Korea’s – business events sector will pick up speed starting from next year, and will recover more quickly than in Europe or the US.

However, although the speed and timing are very important to win international MICE businesses, I think it is more important to maintain the vision and direction of Seoul’s MICE industry, which revolves around safety and sustainability.

Any other thoughts you would like to share?
Although digital is now at the forefront of the industry, ironically, communication with people involved – whether they are staff members, clients, or participants – is ever more important and precious. Communication and authenticity will still remain fundamental to business events.

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