January 06, 2014

Korea’s capital city is staking a major claim on the booming Asia-Pacific MICE market. In Q4 of last year, Seoul Metropolitan Government unveiled a Master Plan for the further development of Seoul’s already bustling meetings industry, aiming to propel the metropolis into one the top five convention cities in the world, according to the Union of International Association (UIA) rankings.

The plan, drafted from input with the city’s top meetings industry professionals, was unveiled at the 12th Seoul International Business Advisory Council (SIBAC) conference, a gathering of high-level corporate professionals and business leaders held at New Seoul City Hall. The theme of the 2013 conference—“Establishing Seoul as the Model of Tourism and Entertainment”—was led by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon who outlined the city’s Master Plan, along with discussions from business luminaries such as Dominic Barton, global managing director of USA global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company and Christopher Forbes, vice chairman of Forbes media company.

“The MICE industry keeps growing and Asia’s share of it continues to grow. For this reason, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has selected tourism and MICE as its top, core future industries,” says Mayor Park. “The city of Seoul currently ranks fifth worldwide in the number of international conferences it has hosted between 2010 and 2012 according to the UIA. Nevertheless, we are not complacent and have a lot of potential to grow.”

The city’s transformation is being mobilized by a three-phase plan, already underway. Phase 1 includes establishment of the “Seoul Central MICE District,” with the 2014 debut of the cutting-edge Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) (shown above) as the core meeting venue (with its eco-friendly, space-age design) until the opening of a brand-new convention center near Seoul Station in 2018. The second phase involves the expansion of the COEX region in Gangham to include the Jamsil Sports Complex and supporting facilities, while Phase 3 will see the creation of a new convention district in Magok, near Gimpo International Airport in the city’s southwest region.

“Our first goal is to triple Seoul’s MICE capacity by 2020 and to support a better infrastructure,” Mayor Park said. “Our MICE industry is highly competitive, with strong multi-level government support backing the planning and hosting of international events, as well as a highly trained private sector of meeting professionals ready and able to assist. The city has already proved its MICE capabilities through the successful hosting of the G20 Seoul Summit 2010 and the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit.”

“The infrastructure that Seoul has today is already among the best in the world,” added E. J. Fieldhouse, Destination Manager – Pacific World, South Korea. The Master Plan enhances this infrastructure even further by boosting the city’s meeting and accommodation capacity. In addition, existing infrastructure such as the COEX and Olympic areas will be refurbished, thus further improving the city’s attractiveness as a MICE destination.”

Helping to lure the global MICE market, Seoul Tourism Organization operates the Seoul MICE Alliance, a partnership of 113 private-sector organizations such as convention centers, hotels PCOs, unique offsite venues, and travel agencies. Together, they participate in joint marketing activities and offer a “one-stop support program covering the initial stage of attracting international meetings to the actual hosting of the event,” noted Mayor Park.

Seoul’s current convention powerhouse is the 4.8 million-square-foot COEX Convention & Exhibition Center, welcoming an average of 15,000 visitors per day and hosting more than 2,000 conferences each year. COEX is also home to Asia’s largest underground mall—currently undergoing a major redevelopment to be finalized later this year—two five-star hotels, three premier office towers, a subway station, and the city’s only airport terminal for easy access into Incheon International Airport, the world’s fourth largest serviced by 56 airlines and ranked as the best airport in the world by Airports Council International.

In addition to major event facilities like COEX, an abundance of renowned meetings-ready hotels (among them Sheraton, Westin, Ritz-Carlton, InterContinental, JW Marriott, and the newly renovated five-star Shilla Hotel) as well as a world-class infrastructure, Seoul offers a rich 2,000-year-old history; beautiful and abundant natural resources; and an array of unique recreational attractions, including five ancient palaces and five World Heritage Sites designated by UNESCO. All of this makes Seoul’s living history is easily accessible to visitors. In addition, Seoul serves as the world headquarters for abundant multinational companies is at the forefront of technology and design, boasting the unique distinction of being the most “wired city” in the world.

“Seoul is a unique city whose three distinct treasures—its natural beauty, history, and citizens—are unlike those found anywhere else,” said Mayor Park. “Seoul will aim to become a global center of knowledge and economy, and a leading global city of innovation, with the latest information and techniques communicated and shared through the MICE industry. The important points of future economic development are knowledge, creativity, dissemination of information, communication, and convergence. The MICE industry will function as the platform for the development of these factors, which will enhance the economy. If this goal is met, it can be stated that MICE Industry will bring growth in the economic, social, and cultural areas of this city and in turn, will enrich the very lives of the citizens of Seoul.”