With new, uniquely Korean, gastronomical, cultural and spiritual attractions to complement its historical mainstays, Seoul is developing in all the right places, says Tom Hall.
n a presentation during CMW’s recent trip to Seoul, newly installed president of the Seoul Tourism Organisation (STO) Kim Byung-tae outlined his goal to turn Seoul into a destination that improves with repeat visits. Over five days, we certainly found plenty worth going back for.
Byung-tae, the first STO president from the private sector, has a rich background in the arts, including stints overseeing the Pung Wol Dang classical music academy. Appropriately, he’s keen to diversify the city’s offerings, and encourage MICE visitors to stay on after their meetings. New festivals celebrating K-pop, classical and rock music are sure to incentivise this proposition.
“Seoul is very safe and the transportation is very efficient. No matter what field you work in we want to have something catered to your sector. Instead of one catalogue for all events, we want to create a manual for each sector to appeal to their niche interests,” says Byung-tae.
The sightseeing in Seoul appeals across market sectors. The Bukchon Honok Village, a residential area flourishing to this day, features Hanok style houses, reflecting 600 years of proud tradition. The Jogyesa Temple, meanwhile, is a place for contemplation with no barriers to entry. Groups can take part in traditional tea-making rituals, and learn temple etiquette (eng.templestay.com). However, more spiritually adventurous groups can enjoy a full retreat experience.
The dedicated meeting and exhibition centres in Seoul include Coex, which features 36,000sqm of space including a convention hall for up to 7,000 visitors. The Dongdaenum Design Plaza, designed by Zaha Hadid, rivals this space, with a modernist 8,206sqm Academy Hall, which has been used by the likes of fashion house Chanel. Meanwhile, the Floating Islands (somesevit.com) and Kintex provide ample space for all MICE activity.
To make the destination even more hospitable, a spate of world class hotels have popped up, including the stunning 317-room Four Seasons hotel, which recently joined the likes of the InterContinental Seoul Coex, Samsung-owned The Shilla and Seoul Millennium Hilton and Plaza Hotel. Elsewhere, Lotte Hotels is increasing its luxury imprint on the city.
Incentives are also big business in Seoul. For those of a rhythmic bent, the Jeondong Theater offers group drumming sessions on its stage (jeongdong.or.kr).
Seoul is booming across the MICE spectrum, mixing culture and charm.