Ramy Salameh talks to Mr Jaesung Rhee, CEO of the Seoul Tourism Organisation.
We worked together for three years when you were the director of the Korea Tourism office in London. How has interest in Seoul as a MICE destination changed?
Seoul has been promoting itself as an attractive MICE destination and has been working with major industry associations to get its name out there on the global market. Seoul Tourism Organisation (STO) co-hosted the UIA Associations Asia-Pacific Round Table 2020 on the Virtual Seoul platform last September to great success.
It’s hard not to mention the honorary Tourism Ambassador BTS (K-Pop music band) who have been promoting Seoul to the world for several years now.
Seoul and, of course Korea, has been making global headlines during the Covid pandemic for the way we have shown best practice in terms of safety measures for controlling the coronavirus infection. This could well lead to heightened interest in the destination in the near future as a leisure, business and MICE destination.
Advanced Technology has always played a key part in advancing Seoul (and Korea’s) MICE aspirations, such as guide robots and 3D mapping at Incheon Airport. What new ‘techno-initiatives’ may impress meeting planners?
Regarding the MICE industry, we can see two main strands, firstly, for online/virtual events and, secondly, for hosting on-site events with strict safety and security measures and protocols.
The fundamentals for hosting on-site events are based on reduced-contact, such as providing QR code registration processes and adding a health condition questionnaire for delegates before attendees enter the site.
Most of our hosted events now have face-detecting tablets at entrances for checking temperatures remotely, while automatically keeping count of the number of participants entering. And nano-disinfecting gates provide air showers to combat any harmful substances that may be carried on participants when entering.
In terms of online advancements, we are seeing exciting gamification, easy customisation using pre-constructed platforms, and virtual events developed with bespoke functionality.
Such technical developments are certainly preparing Seoul’s MICE industry for the coming years. STO came up with innovative solutions for destination marketing during these challenging times, creating the ‘Virtual Seoul’ meeting platform, which was designed to reflect the destination and all the attractions it holds as a MICE destination. This is a pioneering solution that gives the city a solid option for event planners who would like to have their events in Seoul whether they be online, on-site, or maybe both.
STO won the Best Marketing Award at the ICCA Congress 2020 for its ‘Sustainable Energy of Seoul’ campaign. Does this reflect a longer campaign to position Seoul as a ‘Bleisure’ destination?
We believe the award positions Seoul as a Bleisure destination but also recognises our response to Covid-19.
Seoul, of course, faced and faces challenging times just like any other city in the world, but we didn’t give up on the over-arching framework we have established for the marketing and promoting of Seoul as an attractive Bleisure destination.
We produced 360 VR videos in a ‘first-person’ point-of-view to present content as if the viewer was actually experiencing the activity. Aside from the content promoting the city, we broadcast clips showing how Seoul’s MICE industry implemented safety measures at various places and shared it through social channels.
This year also showed us just how valuable is our Seoul MICE Alliance partnership. There is a real ‘energy’ in collective actions. I think our efforts were recognised by ICCA.
Seoul has always been a destination that mixes heritage with modernity, so in terms of incentive experiences, which are the ones you think stand-out and appeal most to an international market?
Seoul is a city culturally rich in terms of providing venues and/or teambuilding programmes to reflect its traditional culture as well as recent pop-culture. The five palaces at the centre of the city and Fortress Wall that surrounds the area certainly have international visitor appeal. There is a seemingly endless list of buildings showcasing modernity. One of the most intriguing examples is Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), which offers a futuristic feel, both externally and internally, and the Lotte World Tower, the tallest building in the country, and which overlooks a beautiful lake. Its exotic grounds provide a trail experience for visitors to enjoy. A perfect place for photos.
What appeals, perhaps, most to the international market is the contemporary K-culture, which has drawn much attention globally through its fashion, food, music, dance and more.
In terms of teambuilding many visitors have enjoyed mission-completing games at historical sites, traditional markets or along the streets in the city centre. Learning the K-pop choreography or recording a K-pop song are popular activities and cooking Korean dishes is also a great way to enhance team spirit and have fun within a group.
The Seoul MICE Alliance (SMA) is linked to the Seoul Plus premium programme. How does this initiative benefit the international MICE planner and delegate?
The Seoul MICE Alliance consists of more than 300 partner companies from 10 categories of Seoul’s MICE industry, including convention centres, hotels, transport companies and PCOs.
The PLUS SEOUL programme run by Seoul Convention Bureau is another booster for business events and helps bond participants/delegates. Fifty partners voluntarily have participated in the PLUS SEOUL PREMIUMS initiative, which works by activating QR codes for users to receive goods and services at the listed SMA sites.
The Hyundai Business Global Centre will be a new convention centre when it opens close by the landmark COEX Centre. How will this new facility impact the type and range of conventions which can be held in the city and when will it open?
The plan is for the area from the landmark COEX to Jamsil, where the 1988 Olympic Games were staged, to be regenerated into a MICE complex cluster by 2025 and the Hyundai Business Global Centre will be a part of that specialised area.
From floating island venues to Seoul Dragon City and Sky31 Convention to Dongdaemun Design Plaza, the city has been innovative in creating inspiring venues, what else is in the pipeline that pushes the boundaries of architecture and geography?
The city has been focusing on regeneration to embrace sustainability, rather than constructing new buildings. The ‘Oil Tank Culture Park’ is one truly unique venue for hosting MICE events. In its outdoor grounds, planners will find six converted oil tanks.
Another venue is Nodeul Island in the centre of the Hangang River Bridge connecting Dongjak-gu and Yongsan-gu. After many years of public discussion, the island was transformed into a cultural complex in September 2019. It is a place that respects its unique ecology and pursues harmony between architecture and nature. It is an ideal location for cultural events, international conferences, concerts and festivals.
What is your vision for the future of Seoul as a Bleisure destination and a world-leading convention city?
As the pandemic put a pause on many offline events, we have seen a huge increase in online events. Many experts forecast that hybrid events will stay long after the pandemic is behind us. I agree that the digital/virtual side of the MICE industry will remain active in the near future and be developed further to attract more participants for MICE events.
Greater numbers of participants experiencing digital/virtual events is not a simple transition, however, and there will be challenges. Participants at online events don’t necessarily do things in a collective manner as they may do during traditional in-person events. If they are watching a presentation online, for example, they could be doing many other things at the same time.
Segmentation within a group is inevitable. More detailed customisation of the support we offer and re-thinking the way STO provided for MICE groups pre-pandemic will be a key factor to satisfying the needs of participants coming to Seoul whether it is online or physically.
We will prepare more digital content to reach out to those interested in visiting the city, especially while travel restrictions are still active. Many other support options will also be prepared ready for the future when restrictions are lifted and the city can welcome travellers back once again.