The message from the Seoul Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions team is clear: the city is open and ready for business. A recent visit to South Korea’s capital revealed a city on the move, with three major conventions going on at the time: the UIA 2017 Seoul World Architects Congress, the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism and the International Fair & Sustainable Tourism Forum.
According to the Union of International Associations’ 2016 list of the world’s top convention cities, Seoul was number three – with 526 meetings – topped only by Singapore, with 888 meetings, and Brussels with 906. And the city consistently scores as the “Best International Meetings Destination” in Business Traveler’s Best of Business Travel Awards.
In 2016, incentive travel, conference, corporate meetings and business events in the Asia-Pacific region topped $200 billion in economic value, according to statistics from The Incentive Conference and Event Society Asia-Pacific.
“We see Asia-Pacific as a group of economies that fit primarily under the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economic zone,” says Nigel Gaunt, president of ICESAP in an interview on his company’s website. “APEC serves to encourage trade within the economies of Asia-Pacific and we have aligned ourselves with this same mission.”
Why Seoul for MICE
Getting to Seoul is easy, with service from 88 airlines that connect directly with almost every major city in the world. Incheon International Airport, named the world’s best for a record 12th consecutive year by Airports Council International’s Airport Service Quality Awards, is in the final stages of completing a $2.5 billion new terminal project that will double the facility’s size.
Seoul has a vast and convenient transportation system that uses the T-money transportation card for subways, buses and taxis to go anywhere in the city. Announcements and signs are available in different languages.
Meeting planners have access to the 57-story Coex Convention and Exhibition Center, home to 20 trade organizations and 250 companies and financial institutions. Coex has four exhibition halls, 54 flexible meeting rooms, hotels, a shopping mall and an aquarium, all located on Seoul Subway Line 2. Gimpo Airport is only 40 minutes away and Incheon International Airport is about an hour distant.
There’s also easy airline check-in with two downtown City Airport Terminals: the Seoul Station and the City Airport, Logis & Travel (CALT) facility, located near the Coex convention facility.
The Seoul Station City Airport Terminal allows international passengers flying Korean Air, Asiana Airlines and Jeju Air departing from Incheon International Airport to check in for their flights. Departing travelers can ride the express line of the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) that goes nonstop to Incheon International Airport, or they can take a bus. For those using the AREX express line, there’s a designated entrance on the 3rd floor departure area of Incheon, thus avoiding the crowds on the ground floor.
The CALT facility serves 17 global airlines, including Korean, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, Air France and United Airlines. Travelers can take the Limousine Bus from the station directly to Incheon and Gimpo airports.
Two hotels – the Grand Intercontinental Seoul Parnas and the Intercontinental Seoul – are attached to Coex. The Grand Intercontinental has 515 rooms, including 252 suites and more than 34,000 square feet of meeting space. And the Intercontinental has 655 rooms, including 34 suites, 10 meeting venues and nearly 25,000 square feet of meeting space.
The number of hotels in Seoul has bloomed from 256 offering 38,745 rooms in 2014 to 348 with 46,947 rooms in 2017. There are 25 hotels near Coex represented by brands including the Park Hyatt, Ibis Styles, Le Méridien, the JW Marriott, the Grand Hyatt, the Grand Walkerhill (formerly the Sheraton) and the Vista Walkerhill (formerly the W).
In October, AccorHotels opened the Dragon City convention complex, located near the Yeouido, Itaewon and central business districts, and convenient to the Yongsan rail station and three subway lines. The complex features four of the group’s brands – Grand Mercure, Novotel Suites, Novotel Hotel and Ibis Styles – along with 11,000 square feet of convention and meeting space.
And by 2025, the city will also become home to the massive Seoul Complex, a 1.6 million square-foot exhibition and convention facility that will integrate international affairs, MICE, sports, and culture and entertainment.
Menus & More
Korean cuisine has gone global, and world-class chefs are offering their own twists on the food. Popular Korean dishes include kimchi (Korean cabbages seasoned with different spices), bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables and beef and served with gochujang, a spicy chili pepper paste), bulgogi (beef in a soy sauce marinade) and grilled and seasoned short ribs and meats. There are two restaurants – Gaon and La Yeon – that have been awarded three Michelin stars, and another three have two stars, plus a total of 19 that have been recognized with one star.
Beyond great food, one of the city’s not-so-secret weapons is the Seoul MICE Alliance (SMA), a partnership between government agencies and private-sector organizations. The alliance, operated by the city of Seoul and the Seoul Tourism Organization, is charged with better promoting the city’s meetings infrastructure and advantages to meetings and events buyers around the world. It’s made up of 260 members from all sectors of the business community including convention centers, hotels, service providers, retailers and associations.
Companies participating in SMA receive support for taking part in overseas meetings industry exhibitions, road shows, conferences and meetings of international organizations while working closely with the city of Seoul to carry out overseas marketing activities. Event planners and organizers that use SMA member companies receive additional benefits if they obtain public assistance in attracting, holding and promoting events.
Seoul MICE is ready with incentives and packages to attract meeting planners to host events in the city. Its relaunched support package ‘Plus Seoul’ was designed to ensure that events are a success for organizers and for participants.
The Plus Seoul package is broken down into five key parts:
• Qualifying international conferences can receive up to a maximum of approximately $133,000 in incentives, broken down into bidding, promoting and hosting support. Corporate meetings can get up to $90,000 through attendee souvenirs and additional support.
• Hospitality Support: Seoul MICE offers attendee welcome kits, a group airport greeting message, a customizable MICE city tour for attendees, a Seoul Welcome Booth at the event and hosting support for the city’s 61 unique venues.
• SMA Support works with members of the Seoul MICE Alliance to develop event subsidies.
• Administrative Support provides assistance with venue search and site inspections, consultation with Seoul MICE supporters and professional bidding consultation and coaching help.
• Special Support in 2017: This year Plus Seoul offers help planning special events and venues such as the K-Pop Dance Experience, the Han River Cycling Tour or a custom program.
Seoul MICE also supports city tours that are customizable and designed for business visitors with limited time in Seoul. Tours led by professional guides can be arranged for full or half days to some of the city’s top attractions, including the Itaewon tourist district, the royal Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village and the Lotte World Tower skyscraper. And the Seoul MICE team is available for event planners by phone or e-mail.
The city has hosted nearly 170 MICE events since 2014, with 20 so far in 2017 and another 10 scheduled before the end of the year. Events include the Smart Factory Expo 2017 (22,000 attendees), IOC World Conference on Prevention of Injury & Illness in Sport (1,500 attendees) and the World Congress of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (3,500 attendees).
In the past 100 years, Seoul has grown to become a city of 10 million people with a highly developed infrastructure and a relatively buoyant economy, according to the World Cities Culture Forum. Hallyu, also known as the Korean Wave, has been the biggest contributor to raising the city’s image abroad.
Seoul is a friendly city with a high level of safety and security and an extremely low crime rate, according to the MICE team. The people are hospitable, making visitors feel welcome and comfortable. Seoul was named ‘World Design Capital’ in 2010 due to its efforts to improve its urban environment through design.
The city boasts state-of-the art infrastructure, world-class accommodations, a modern transportation system and a rich cultural heritage. Korea is making urban design headlines at home and overseas, especially due to Seoul’s influence where you can see unique and ultra-modern structures and public areas everywhere. All in all, the package makes an ideal location for future MICE events.
By Benét Wilson