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Seoul survivor: Korea delivers on first-class venues and incentives

As a North-east Asian meetings and incentives destination, Seoul and wider South Korea has much to offer in terms of world-class venues and conference centres. Fiona Keating reports.

South Korea is fast becoming a contender as an alternative option to other Asian countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

The country is slowly but surely climbing up the ICCA rankings for international meetings, with Seoul now in 10th place.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, South Korea has a strong IT infrastructure. “Korea is one of the most wired places in the world,” says Bae Ho Kim, director of Korea’s MICE bureau. “It’s a capable, convenient and charming destination. It has a vibrant nightlife and 70 per cent of the country is covered in mountains, so there is a combination of nature and city.”

There are more than 61 unique venues, with Han Shinja, vice chair of Korea MICE Association saying: “Korea has many unique venues to appeal to a global audience. We are working with MICE companies from China to host events and have closer contact with North Korea. We should be more active there and seek out more business opportunities. There is an important value from collaboration and exchanges.”

One of the most unusual venues is the Gyeong Bokung Palace, also known as the Palace of Shining Happiness. It has largely been rebuilt since the period of Japanese rule (between 1910 and 1945) but is still an impressive sight and gives a good feel of ancient Korean architecture. It’s a fun, incentive option as visitors can dress up in traditional Korean costume and stroll around the grounds. It’s also possible to host a royal banquet here.

Another option is Korea House, which was the official government reception hall of Korea from 1957-1978. Beautifully restored, it offers traditional banquets of Korean barbecues, stir-fried octopus, as well as various types of Kimchi. Along with this, it’s also possible to book traditional dance and music to accompany the meal.

There has also been an increase in hotel investment, with Seoul now accounting for more than 128 hotels and 27,187 rooms. The Lotte Hotel L7 in Myeongdong has one of the best panoramas from its rooftop bar, with views of Namsan Mountain.

COEX Convention & Exhibition Centre in Gangnam, is one of the busiest, hosting more than 2,000 meetings and events each year. The complex also houses 5-star hotels, one of Asia’s largest underground shopping mall, and a city airport terminal.

Korea

Nurimaru APEC house, at the tip of a forested peninsula in Busan.

BEXCO (Busan Exhibition and Convention centre) has more than 46,500 sqm of exhibition space, 53 meeting rooms, with the biggest column-free area in Korea at 26,000 sqm.

Other venues in Seoul include the world’s fifth tallest building, Lotte World Tower, and Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) designed by British firm Zaha Hadid architects.

The most populous province in South Korea, Gyeonggi which means “near the capital, Gyeonggi is the location of KINTEX, the largest convention centre in South Korea, as well as Suwon Convention Centre which opened in March 2019, with There are plans for a 5-star hotel, gallery, department store and entertainment facilities. There are incentive trips here which include the UNESCO world heritage sites such as Suwon Hwaseong Fortress, Namhansanseong Fortress, and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.

In Busan, Korea’s second city and the world’s 5th largest deep-sea port, the Avani Central Busan, set 30 minutes from Gimhae International Airport, opened for bookings in July 2019. The hotel also has an 800 sqm event space.

Korea offers a variety of experiences for incentive groups, such as the DMZ (De-Militarised Zone) tour, recently the scene of a meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un. You can go down a tunnel which was reputedly built by the North Koreans planning to invade South Korea.

Other incentives include Jeju Island, a UNESCO site and a New7Wonders of Nature, Gyeongju, as the Museum without Walls which offers an insight into the Shilla dynasty, and is the location of some of the country’s oldest heritage.

South Korea has had some big wins of late, such as the 31st World Congress on Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology. The event will take place in Seoul for five days, sometime in late September to early October of 2021, welcoming approximately 2,000 clinicians, academics, and industry experts from 75 countries.

Korea has direct flight access from 90+ airlines to 186 cities around the world, with departures from London, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Incheon International Airport now benefits from a second terminal, built in 2018, which means faster transit times. Recent infrastructure developments include Grand Hyatt Incheon and an entertainment complex to be built close to the airport. Incheon will also be hosting the 2020 Asian Development Bank (ADB) annual meeting.

Buyer’s eye: 

Mike Kunheim.

Mike Kunheim, MD at Jack Morton 

“Our operation in Korea is a gateway to Samsung. Generally, we are working with Korean firms and Hyundai in the past as well. The Korean market is very competitive and domestically it is quite challenging in terms of price points.

It’s amazing. Seoul is one of the most vibrant, exciting places and emerging on the world stage. It has dramatically improved, including the venues such as Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) designed by Zaha Hadid. For more traditional exhibitions spaces, there is Sodexo. The hotels and the whole infrastructure there is brilliantly set up.”