A reliance on rigorous testing and proprietary technology has got South Korea’s venues and events sector back on track.
With a clear and transparent set of protocols for business events and the safety of its people and visitors, South Korea is likely to be in demand for those seeking a suitable destination for international events.
Although some recent Covid-19 flare-ups have been recorded, South Korea has been lauded as a country that has kept cases and deaths low compared to many destinations. Perhaps it is the collective memory of a nation already experienced from SARS, and more recently MERS, that has meant transparency with a stringent test and tracing regime allowint the population to go about their daily lives throughout the pandemic.
Well known for its lead in technology, Korea was quick to develop a national mobile tracing app, which all visitors must download upon entering the country. Free, fast testing, combined with the app, is designed to identify and contain cases quickly.
Although Korea was one of the first countries affected by the pandemic, in February, the speed at which the country responded meant that, as of the end of August there had been just over 300 deaths recorded. Korea sent cleaners into the streets, on public transport and to every public space cleaning in plain sight.
The Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention has mandated that hygiene, above all, can prevent the spread, alongside quarantining the sick and allowing greater mobility for the rest.
Social distancing of 2m evolved to distancing in daily life of 1.5m (with mitigation, hygiene and mask wearing), schools returned, albeit in a staged manner, and business events restarted in May 2020, with a major architects’ event at the KINTEX venue.
Seoul’s run of Phantom of the Opera is reported to have been the only English language production running anywhere in the world – in a 1,600 strong auditorium. This was achieved with strict view to hygiene across cast, crew and audience, from mask wearing (not the cast), to a light misting of disinfectant upon entry and frequent hand sanitising points. Attendees complete a questionnaire for contact tracing and the front row of seats was removed as a precaution. Business events now have few restrictions on numbers, providing protocols are maintained.
Venues KINTEX and COEX have been well represented in industry webinar series demonstrating how Korea is welcoming events, proving to their own government and the joint meetings industry bodies that Korean hosts know who their delegates are and where they come from, and have the technology and processes to ensure they can be kept safe.
Venue protocols include:
– All visitors must wear a face mask and exhibitors must also wear a face-shield.
– Thermometers, or thermal imaging cameras are installed at the entrance to the venue and visitors are screened again before entering the halls.
– Strict distancing of 1.5 metres is enforced and visitors are encouraged to sanitise their hands and wear plastic gloves for exhibitions.
– Convention centres provide an external quarantine tent and ambulances on stand-by.
– Venues and organisers work in tandem to ensure each has clear responsibility for standards.
– Plain sight, frequent cleaning operations and sanitiser mists in place.
– Delegates are re-registered on entry to check their recent travels, and delegates lists maintained for at least 14 days post event in case of need to track and trace.
In June, KINTEX, near Seoul, held an exhibition with 30,000 attendees and a week earlier 20,000 visitors attended three separate exhibitions, held simultaneously at the venue. KINTEX convention sales and marketing coordinator, Hyo In Son, said: “We are no longer facing any mass cancellations on the organisers’ side. So, while we will be facing an inevitable sales deficit this year, I believe we can overcome this difficult situation together.”
At Seoul’s COEX, manager of convention sales, Heather Lee, explains that the Seoul International Dental Congress, SIDEX 2020, which took place in June, welcomed 5,000 delegates in person, emphasising that two weeks later there was not a single case of Covid-19 linked to the event.
Hotels have remained open and continued to receive guests throughout the pandemic, high touch areas were cleaned frequently.
Korea calls the contactless approach, ‘Untact’. Beyond cashless payment, mobiles not only track and trace but, with QR readers and more, facilitate to eat, meet, and enjoy. Hotels were quick to employ this. From Korea’s own international Chain Lotte Hotels & Resorts, to global brands, visitors check in, unlock hotel rooms, choose and order from a menu, safely.
Grand Hyatt Seoul held an International Chambers Gala dinner for 450 people in July and the organiser was delighted to report that no Covid cases occurred from the event. Again, hygiene processes were similar to those mentioned above and included rearranging table seating (reducing from 10 to 6 people per table) and placement (reducing 81 to 72 tables with 1.5 metres of space) Sadly, no dancing was permitted at the event, which involved staggered arrival times and liberal distribution of masks and extensive placement of hand sanitisers.
After the event the hotel managed and monitored attendance list for 14 days and stood ready to share information about any symptomatic attendees. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts and Hyatt has moved to set up new hybrid event spaces in its Korean properities, all with the required bandwidth.
New hotels openings include:
• June 2020 Lotte’s Signiel Busan opened
• July 2020 Wyndham Ramada Plaza Yeousu opened
• October 2020 both Grand Hyatt Jeju and Ramada Gumi due to open.
The national bureau, KoreaMICE Bureau, under the Korea Tourism Organisation, is offering meeting planners ‘enhanced’ support to overcome the challenges posed by Covid-19 as the events industry gets back on track. Until the end of June 2021 additional funding is available to organisers for safety measures such as thermal imaging cameras, face masks and hand sanitisers.
Anne Ridyard, the representative for the bureau, confirms there are ‘considerable’ subsidies for very large meetings on a ‘sliding scale’ as well as support from the regional bureaux where the event will be held, including extra resources to support hybrid meetings. 5G has been in Korea for two years, and tech related events are certainly strong, however there are many business reasons for convening in Korea, from automotive, manufacture, R&D, life sciences, as well as architecture and design, fashion and the arts (don’t forget Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite won Four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director at this year’s Oscars). Korea is certainly demonstrating its leading role on the events stage in many ways.