The capital city of South Korea has earned a few accolades as a world-class business events destination. Last year, Seoul ranked 15th among ICCA host cities, was the third Asian city to win ICCA BMA—and first domestically—and was selected as the world’s third-largest host city of international conferences for its fifth consecutive year by the UIA. If the pandemic proved anything, it showed that even in times of crisis, Seoul’s resilience and innovative spirit will find a solution to continue boosting its blossoming events industry.
As a way to engage with the associations, the Seoul Convention Bureau organised an online shopping promotion in July in partnership with Seoul MICE Alliance (SMA), which included 13 SMA members from four categories—unique venue, entertainment, transportation and hotel—including Courtyard Marriott Seoul Namdaemun, Courtyard Marriott Seoul Times Square, E-Land Cruise, Floating Island Convention, Four Points by Sheraton Seoul (Guro), Golden Blue Marina, Lotte World, N Seoul Tower, Korea House, Seoul Garden Hotel, Seoul Tour Bus Travel Service, Swiss Grand Hotel and Trick Eye Museum.
“This year’s trending topic for Seoul MICE Alliance is ‘Sustainable Transformation ON,’ in the context of encouraging members to overcome the coronavirus crisis together through the sustainable transformation,” explains Jihyun Kim, director of the MICE Planning team at the Seoul Tourism Organization (STO). “We will take the lead in the proactive transformation of the MICE ecosystem by stepping up the COVID-19 containment service for hybrid events, upgrading the virtual Seoul venue, and developing and supporting the ‘new normal’ contents.”
The promotion was on one of Korea’s major shopping channels and included livestream shopping and exclusive experiences like yacht packages from Golden Blue Marina, as well as restaurant vouchers and city tour bus tickets, and was intended to show the challenging situation the industry is facing to the public. As Kim puts it: “The MICE industry around the world is in an unprecedented crisis due to the pandemic. Despite the challenges, this online shopping promotion was an excellent opportunity to promote MICE industry to the public and make known the difficult state, nevertheless. We will maintain our effort of proactively seeking new ways to support the industry and our SMA members.”
The 66th IPSF World Congress—the first private international conference held on Virtual SEOUL—was also recently held through Virtual Seoul and via Zoom (at Dongguk University Seoul campus). The event drew nearly 2,000 students from around the globe. As Cho Mi-Sook, director of the Tourism Policy Division, puts it: “Although the MICE industry, where face-to-face contact is important, is shrinking due to the prolonged pandemic, we are actively promoting MICE Seoul, by taking advantage of our status as IT powerhouse and charming virtual images of MICE city.”
Seoul also recently held the Virtual MICE Show: SEOUL LIVE ON in collaboration with SMA members to show international planners and buyers how STO can support events and continue the transformation to the digital business model through hybrid formats via an online virtual venue, online booths in the metaverse space and live-commerce. Seoul’s landmarks—Changdeokgung Palace, Sebitseom Island and DDP—served as a backdrop for the online, 3D event platform. The event connected 107 organizations from eight countries with local MICE businesses and prepared virtual field programs for those who can’t visit in person. For example, 360-degree VR videos showcased 61 spots around the city, including iconic hotels and unique venues, while games like cooking gimpap at Gyeongbokgung Palaceoffered another type of digital engagement.
“Unlike the offline MICE show at the existing exhibition booths, this virtual MICE show provides a very effective way to introduce and promote the various visualized materials of the hotel through a completely one-on-one session with each customer,” explains participant Kaylee Jo, sales manager of Fairmont Ambassador Seoul. “We’re expecting to form positive relationships with leading overseas companies and PCOs, which has been very difficult due to the pandemic.”
Suzy Kim, general manager of FNF Korea Travel & DMC, agrees, saying that the advantage of a virtual show like this is that the burden of business travel is removed. “In the past, to participate in events such as the MICE Show, I had to fly for several hours, and I started preparing for a business trip the days before the show and planning for the days after the trip at the same time,” Kim explains. “There were many difficult days due to much energy spent for the trip. But now, participating in online events like the Virtual Mice Show, I think the best thing is that you can spend more time and energy exclusively for the event.”
As a response to the prolongment of the pandemic and to help staff that might experience stress due to it, STO has introduced psychological counseling for tourism and MICE companies feeling the “Corona Blue.” Two counselors are working to provide group counseling for companies to help with communication skills, conflict resolution and teambuilding activities. Salin, Hyunjoo Kwak, a senior researcher who participated in group counselling, says that “recognizing how my colleagues differ from one another has helped me understand my colleagues and get to know myself as well. It was good because through the program, we many areas that we didn’t know or know very well so we can develop closer relationships forward.”
The Seoul Tourism and MICE Business Center, which opened in 2019 and has since expanded and moved to the seventh floor of Seoul Tourism Plaza, will also include psychological healing programmes and offer business advice to assist associations in understanding and tackling major issues in the tourism and events industries, as well as offer free online education twice a year.