South Korea Meetings Beyond Seoul

South Korean destinations like Songdo, Incheon, and Busan offer plenty for groups

Songdo International Business District

When you think of South Korea, it's not uncommon to think of Seoul. The capital city, home to more than 10 million people, remains a major global center for politics, finance, arts, design, entertainment, and culture in the Republic of Korea. No wonder, then, that it's often regarded as a top meetings destination.

In June 2015, the Union of International Associations ranked South Korea as the fourth most popular international meetings destination, with 636 association meetings hosted in 2014, and Seoul was ranked the fifth most popular international meeting city the year before, hosting 249 international association meetings, or approximately 39 percent of all meetings held in South Korea in 2014.

The remaining 61 percent of international association meetings took place throughout the country, stretching as far north as Songdo and Incheon and as far south to Busan. Last year, I had an opportunity to tour a number of those cities and I can tell you, firsthand, why they, in addition to Seoul, should be considered for your next international meeting. Here's a closer look.


Songdo: The Epitome of a Smart City
What is a "smart city," exactly? It's a city that melds technology, design, and sustainability to create a livable, thriving environment for its residents and visitors -- and that's exactly what the developers of Songdo International Business District set out to do when they embarked on the $35 billion endeavor.

Songdo has been a smart city from the very beginning. Built on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land near the Yellow Sea and only a 20-minute drive away from Incheon International Airport, it is the world's largest private real estate development and when it's completed by 2020, it will be home to 65,000 residents and 300,000 commuters on a daily basis.

The city was designed by Kohn Pederson Fox and developed by Gale International to be a model of sustainability. It's the first LEED-certified district in South Korea, with 19.5 million square feet of LEED-certified space, and the very heart of the city is a sprawling park modeled after New York City's Central Park. Next to the park is the Songdo Convensia convention center, which is within walking distance of six hotels housing about 1,800 rooms. The convention venue plans to expand in 2018, doubling its size from 1.2 million square feet to 2.4 million square feet.

If you choose to bring a meeting to Songdo, there are a number of venues from which to choose, including Convensia, the Sheraton Grand Incheon Hotel, Oakwood Premier Incheon (serviced apartments), Songdo Central Park Hotel, Holiday Inn Incheon Songdo, Gyeongwonjae Ambassador Hanok Hotel, and Orakai Songdo Park Hotel.

What struck me most about Songdo wasn't just how "smart" the city was, but how technologically efficient -- and sustainable -- it was designed to be. Technology is everywhere, but not obtrusive. Information technology systems are linked wherever you go, and it's not uncommon to find TelePresence capabilities wherever you might be.

Songdo is also home to one of the world's largest pneumatic waste collection systems and a state-of-the-art cogeneration plant. There's not a garbage bag or truck in sight. By the year 2020, Songdo expects it will recycle 40 percent of its water and 76 percent of its waste.

If you seek an accessible, smart international meetings destination that places an emphasis on technology and sustainability, Songdo is an ideal choice and truly one of a kind.
Daegu and Gyeongju: Centers of Technology and Culture

South of Seoul and north of Busan, three cities -- Daegu, Gyeongju, and Changwon -- are also emerging meeting and incentive destinations in their own right, each with impressive convention center facilities and rich cultural heritage.

Daegu is the birthplace of Samsung, and it's a 90-minute KTX ride from Seoul. Surrounded by mountains, Daegu is a city that's known for its technology, warm summers, fashion, textiles, and medical tourism. For meeting groups, the city's convention center, EXCO, is a major draw. This modern 238,500-square-foot facility was designed with Intelligent Building Systems' architectural technologies, and is focused on sustainability. Together, EXCO generates 1,618,220 kilowatt hours of electricity every year, which is tantamount to planting 271,900 pine trees.

About an hour's drive to the southeast of Daegu, you'll find yourself in Gyeongju, home to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Gyeongju is often thought of as a center for traditional Korean arts and culture, having once been the royal capital of the Shilla Kingdom. Can't-miss UNESCO World Heritage sites in Gyeongju include Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram Grotto.

My personal favorite place to visit in Gyeongju, however, was Yangdong Village. Here, you'll find more than 150 houses that were built during the Joseon Dynasty, some 400 years ago, and the houses are not only still preserved, but families still live in them. One of the most memorable experiences during my trip involved visiting one of the families houses where our group took part in two culinary teambuilding exercises. The first exercise involved working as pairs to twist and pull steamed rice into a sweet traditional candy called yeot. The second involved making our very own injeolmi, a sweet rice cake covered in soybean flour. Using a giant mallet, each of us took a turn pounding the rice until it was soft and malleable enough to be formed into smooth rice cakes. These were just two examples of meeting group excursions available at Yangdong Village.

For meetings, groups can choose from HICO Convention Center, a 337,300-square-foot space, or one of the 21 nearby hotels, including the upscale 324-room Hilton Gyeongju Hotel, which is only a short walk away from the convention center. There's also Shilla Millennium Park, an educational and entertainment theme park that models itself after the villages you would find during the Shilla Dynasty. Groups can use the park as a setting for receptions. And a popular spot includes the outdoor set in which a famous Korean drama, Queen Seondeok was filmed.  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the June 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.

Busan: A Beautiful City on the Sea
Situated in the south of the country, and only a 2.5-hour KTX train ride from Seoul, you'll find yourself in Busan, South Korea's second-largest city. If Seoul is comparable to New York City, Busan is similar to Los Angeles. Known as South Korea's favorite beach escape, this port city -- with the fifth-largest port in the world -- has plenty for meeting groups, whether you want a seaside retreat or a star-studded affair. This is, after all, where the annual Busan International Film Festival, considered to be the Cannes Film Festival of the Korean and Asia-Pacific film industry, is held.

The site of the annual festival -- the Busan Cinema Center -- is an architectural masterpiece that sits in the heart of the city's conference district. Designed by famed Viennese firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, it boasts the largest cantilevered roof in the world, covering a massive outdoor plaza that can seat up to 4,300 people. The roof itself has 42,600 LED lights that can be synchronized to create visual displays. Meeting organizers can arrange to have film presentations at the center, as well as hold traditional theater-style meetings and both outdoor and indoor receptions.

Not far from the Busan Cinema Center is the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO), which opened in 2001. With 968,800 square feet of space covering seven different floors and one underground level, the convention center is a versatile, flexible space that has a variety of halls, conference rooms, and auditoriums for groups of all sizes. In 2012, BEXCO hosted its largest group to date -- the Lions Club International Convention -- which hosted more than 55,000 attendees from more than 120 countries.

But if you want to meet close to the water, there's no better spot than the Nurimaru APEC House, which can host up to 800 attendees. Surrounded by trees and the water, the picturesque meeting venue hosted the 2005 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and resembles a traditional jeongja, or Korean pavilion. And if you want your group to be as close to the water as possible, board BEXCO's Yacht B, a 52-foot-long sailboat that can host up to 27. An excursion out on the water, underneath the Gwangan Bridge, is a relaxing and memorable trip, whether you go at night or in the daytime. Or bring up to 300 attendees to the Busan Aquarium, where you can meet inside, or at the end of a 262.5-foot-long shark tunnel.

When your group isn't in meetings, encourage them to explore Busan's historic sites, including the Yonggungsa Temple, which is only a short taxi ride away from the convention center. Or head to famed Haeundae Beach, where you will find a number of hotels.

In total, Busan has nearly 90 hotel properties with 12,367 rooms, and 18 more hotels are slated to open over the next four years.

Where to: songdo
MEET - Songdo Convensia
This convention center opened in 2008 and has played host to a number of large international meetings and conventions since. The eco-friendly convention center was also the first LEED-certified convention center in Asia. Fun fact: Some scenes from Psy's famous "Gangnam Style" music video were filmed at Convensia.

STAY - Sheraton Grand Incheon Hotel
Just a few steps away from Songdo's Central Park and Songdo Convensia convention center, this business-friendly property has 321 guest rooms and a total of 18,300 square feet of meeting space. Standout reasons to stay at this property include the hotel's many dining options, such as Bene, an authentic Italian restaurant.

EXPLORE - Central Park
This walkable park, much like its New York namesake, is a main fixture of this international city of the future. The 101-acre park comprises almost 10 percent of Songdo's total area, and a seawater canal that refreshes itself every 24 hours flows through the park. It's a peaceful, relaxing place for meeting attendees to stroll after a long day of meetings, or during breaks.


Busan: A Beautiful City on the Sea
Situated in the south of the country, and only a 2.5-hour KTX train ride from Seoul, you'll find yourself in Busan, South Korea's second-largest city. If Seoul is comparable to New York City, Busan is similar to Los Angeles. Known as South Korea's favorite beach escape, this port city -- with the fifth-largest port in the world -- has plenty for meeting groups, whether you want a seaside retreat or a star-studded affair. This is, after all, where the annual Busan International Film Festival, considered to be the Cannes Film Festival of the Korean and Asia-Pacific film industry, is held.

The site of the annual festival -- the Busan Cinema Center -- is an architectural masterpiece that sits in the heart of the city's conference district. Designed by famed Viennese firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, it boasts the largest cantilevered roof in the world, covering a massive outdoor plaza that can seat up to 4,300 people. The roof itself has 42,600 LED lights that can be synchronized to create visual displays. Meeting organizers can arrange to have film presentations at the center, as well as hold traditional theater-style meetings and both outdoor and indoor receptions.

Not far from the Busan Cinema Center is the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO), which opened in 2001. With 968,800 square feet of space covering seven different floors and one underground level, the convention center is a versatile, flexible space that has a variety of halls, conference rooms, and auditoriums for groups of all sizes. In 2012, BEXCO hosted its largest group to date -- the Lions Club International Convention -- which hosted more than 55,000 attendees from more than 120 countries.

But if you want to meet close to the water, there's no better spot than the Nurimaru APEC House, which can host up to 800 attendees. Surrounded by trees and the water, the picturesque meeting venue hosted the 2005 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and resembles a traditional jeongja, or Korean pavilion. And if you want your group to be as close to the water as possible, board BEXCO's Yacht B, a 52-foot-long sailboat that can host up to 27. An excursion out on the water, underneath the Gwangan Bridge, is a relaxing and memorable trip, whether you go at night or in the daytime. Or bring up to 300 attendees to the Busan Aquarium, where you can meet inside, or at the end of a 262.5-foot-long shark tunnel.

When your group isn't in meetings, encourage them to explore Busan's historic sites, including the Yonggungsa Temple, which is only a short taxi ride away from the convention center. Or head to famed Haeundae Beach, where you will find a number of hotels.

In total, Busan has nearly 90 hotel properties with 12,367 rooms, and 18 more hotels are slated to open over the next four years.

ESSENTIAL Tool Box
CONVENTION CENTERS & FACILITIES
Songdo Convensia (1.2 million sf); BEXCO (968,752 sf); HICO (337,300 sf); EXCO (238,500 sf)


Daegu and Gyeongju: Centers of Technology and Culture

South of Seoul and north of Busan, three cities -- Daegu, Gyeongju, and Changwon -- are also emerging meeting and incentive destinations in their own right, each with impressive convention center facilities and rich cultural heritage.

Daegu is the birthplace of Samsung, and it's a 90-minute KTX ride from Seoul. Surrounded by mountains, Daegu is a city that's known for its technology, warm summers, fashion, textiles, and medical tourism. For meeting groups, the city's convention center, EXCO, is a major draw. This modern 238,500-square-foot facility was designed with Intelligent Building Systems' architectural technologies, and is focused on sustainability. Together, EXCO generates 1,618,220 kilowatt hours of electricity every year, which is tantamount to planting 271,900 pine trees.

About an hour's drive to the southeast of Daegu, you'll find yourself in Gyeongju, home to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Gyeongju is often thought of as a center for traditional Korean arts and culture, having once been the royal capital of the Shilla Kingdom. Can't-miss UNESCO World Heritage sites in Gyeongju include Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram Grotto.

My personal favorite place to visit in Gyeongju, however, was Yangdong Village. Here, you'll find more than 150 houses that were built during the Joseon Dynasty, some 400 years ago, and the houses are not only still preserved, but families still live in them. One of the most memorable experiences during my trip involved visiting one of the families houses where our group took part in two culinary teambuilding exercises. The first exercise involved working as pairs to twist and pull steamed rice into a sweet traditional candy called yeot. The second involved making our very own injeolmi, a sweet rice cake covered in soybean flour. Using a giant mallet, each of us took a turn pounding the rice until it was soft and malleable enough to be formed into smooth rice cakes. These were just two examples of meeting group excursions available at Yangdong Village.

For meetings, groups can choose from HICO Convention Center, a 337,300-square-foot space, or one of the 21 nearby hotels, including the upscale 324-room Hilton Gyeongju Hotel, which is only a short walk away from the convention center. There's also Shilla Millennium Park, an educational and entertainment theme park that models itself after the villages you would find during the Shilla Dynasty. Groups can use the park as a setting for receptions. And a popular spot includes the outdoor set in which a famous Korean drama, Queen Seondeok was filmed.  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the June 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.