Korea Covets International Meetings

Korea, one of the Four Asian Tigers, trumpets its aspiration for international meetings supremacy.

Korea is making an all-out push to become a top international meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions (MICE) destination. The country, located between China and Japan, and ranked 15th by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) in number of meetings hosted, recently introduced a slew of initiatives aimed at raising its brand awareness.

The Korean MICE Bureau (KMB) earlier this year began a global marketing campaign. Besides new informational materials for meeting and incentive planners, including a DVD video and a printed planner's guide, KMB unveiled www.koreaconvention.org, filled with an array of tools including a request for proposal generator, a venue finder, and downloadable information kits.

Further, the KMB and its parent, the Korea Tourism Organization, are working with the country's ministry in charge of tourism to make sure the biggest visiting conventions, such as the Society of Gastrointestinal Intervention's annual meeting taking place this month, are getting the
utmost planning support.

Also, under the auspices of the Korea MICE Alliance, the bureau is linking up with regional convention bureaus, destination management companies (DMCs), and professional congress organizers and creating a knowledge-sharing platform to give meetings aligned and consistent support.

Part of the alliance is the Seoul Tourism Organization, which itself has revamped its marketing, now led by a campaign called "Hi Seoul: Soul of Asia." The organization also has teamed up with Visit London and Business Events Sydney to create the Future Convention Cities Initiative, which aims to recruit other convention cities around the world as members and foster collaborative event-business research and development.

Samuel Koo, president and CEO of the Seoul Tourism Organization, says, "Seoul has a clear goal of being a leading global destination for conventions and events. The initiative provides a platform to generate research insights and access the expertise each member needs to help drive our growth."

The focus of Korea meetings is, of course, on Seoul, the capital city and economic and social hub, with a population of over 10 million. Seoul, tied with Buenos Aires for 11th place in ICCA's city rankings, is becoming a popular destination for large international medical and scientific conferences. Koo has stated a desire for Seoul to be a top-five ICCA city destination.

More than 70 international airlines operate flights to Incheon International Airport outside Seoul from over 170 cities. North American gateways include New York, Toronto, and Los Angeles. Visitors who hold U.S. passports do not need visas to enter Korea.

Brad Goldberg, CMP, owner and CEO of Tampa, FL-based TriGold Consulting, a contingency planning and risk management provider for meeting planners, is a retired U.S. Air Force officer who often traveled to Osan Air Base and has Seoul experience. He highly recommends anyone planning a meeting in Seoul or Korea to use a DMC—as with any meeting location with vast cultural differences and language barriers. "Showing respect is huge there, but Koreans are extremely wonderful people, and most hotels are great to work with," he says.

Goldberg says when working with Korean DMCs, planners need to be explicit with their meeting objectives and requirements such as food and beverage choices. Make sure your nuts and bolts are clear and specific, he notes.

Goldberg says one of the most useful purposes for a DMC in Korea is the arranging of transportation for attendees. Using a local expert is advantageous because while it is "really easy to get out of Incheon Airport," transportation in Seoul can be especially challenging, he notes. The Arex airport express railway directly linking the aiport and Seoul Station in the city center is expected to ease transfers when it opens at the end of this year.

The main convention complex in Seoul is Coex, with 61 meeting rooms and 12 exhibit halls totaling 387,500 sf of show space. Part of the World Trade Center in the heart of the city, Coex is accompanied by three hotels, fine-dining restaurants, a popular shopping mall, an aquarium, and a cineplex.

Outside Seoul, in Gyeonggi-do, Kintex (the Korea International Exhibition Center) is the country's largest convention facility, with 23 meeting rooms and five exhibit halls totaling 580,982 sf of space. It is currently expanding to its second phase, scheduled to be completed in 2011, which will give it more than 1 million sf of space.

On the KMB site, there are group deals in Seoul offered by hotel properties sporting familiar brand names, such as Starwood's Sheraton Grande Walkerhill and W Seoul Walkerhill, Marriott's Ritz-Carlton Seoul and JW Marriott Seoul, the Grand InterContinental Seoul, and the Grand Hyatt Seoul.

Korea offers several popular pre-tours and post-tours. One of the most popular among conference-goers is a tour of the southern side of the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, between the country and North Korea. A relic of the Cold War and the site of fierce battles during the Korean War, the DMZ has been mostly untouched for the last half-century and today is a biodiverse area with rare birds and lush forests.

To build the main program in Korea, whether it's for a meeting or an incentive, KMB has a roster of theme events and requisite venues. The agency can create "Royal House" parties at ancient estates, museums, or conference halls, where authentic Korean meals and royal court music infuse elegance and Old World charm. For large groups, consider buying out one of the many theme parks that are located near or within Korea's major cities. KMB gives VIPs and attendees opportunities to participate in theme park parades.

For team-building, groups can engage in a Korean cooking contest, making traditional dishes such as bulgogi, a dish of grilled tender cuts of marinated beef, and bibimbap, a bowl of rice topped with vegetables, beef, and a fried egg. After a crash course, teams compete for "Best Korean Cuisine Team."

Other options include team competitions related to Korean folk music and dancing and even the national martial art taekwondo.

Originally published Oct. 1, 2010