It's a special destination that preserves its history while keeping up with the latest innovations, be that in fashion, music, or technology. In a relatively short period of time, South Korea worked its way out of the poverty and devastation of the Korean War to the prosperity on display at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Now the same energy and determinatiion the country showed throughout the 60s and 70s is bolstering its meetings and events infrastructure, due in no small part to the forthcoming 2018 Winter Games. In addition, Buddhist temples, dynastic palaces, large swaths of mountains, and complex and delicious food add to this destination's allure for groups.
There were 1.17 million visitors last year, a 30 percent increase from 2015, reports Bae Ho Kim, director of KTO's Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions (MICE) planning and coordination team. "But we need more awareness," he says.
Although tensions between the United States and North Korea have heightened in recent weeks, the issues surrounding North Korea should be addressed but shouldn't be a deterrent for groups traveling to South Korea, says J. David Rozsa, chief executive officer of McLean, VA--based Metacred, an association management company that specializes in credentialing. "Whenever we plan a meeting in a place that has experienced a recent tragedy, we get one or two people who question the potential risk, and we tell them we can't predict where lightning will strike and you can't live your life worrying about it," he says. "We feel the same way about South Korea. When planning a meeting here, we will take all the necessary precautions one takes when planning any meeting."
Rozsa was in the country in June attending the Korea MICE Expo 2017 at the Incheon Songdo Convensia, a state-of-the-art convention center 17 miles outside of Seoul. During the expo, Rozsa met with representatives from many of the country's convention and visitors bureaus and was impressed with the multitude of state-of-the-art congress centers to choose from and their accessibility.
Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a business-minded city with a commercial hum, but also dotted with gardens, shrines, palaces, and hanoks -- traditional houses often built around courtyards. The city's Gyeongbokgung Palace, the oldest and grandest of five Joseon Dynasty palaces with a history that dates back to 1394, is surrounded by majestic, glistening modern buildings, as well as trendsetting restaurants and galleries that are a stroll away.
"A commitment to excellence is universal here and hospitality is an inherent part of the culture," says Rozsa. "There is a very harmonious integration of traditional values of excellence, modesty, and hospitality combined with sophistication and worldliness that is very hard to find these days. Just look at its flag."
A taegeuk sits at the center of the country's flag -- a design inspired by the Chinese yin and yang, in blue and white, intertwined as one. It is a fitting symbol for a destination balancing old and new.
"The country has done a really good job of modernizing without giving up their heritage in a way other countries have struggled," says Rozsa. "The initial impression of Korea on the global stage doesn't do it justice."