It's been over three years since Maureen O'Crowley began working as the vice president of MICE & International Marketing Sector of Seoul Convention Bureau of the Seoul Tourism Organization (STO) which was launched on February, 2008. Maureen has an extensive knowledge of Korea and the Korean culture in her life background. As we at BusinessKorea sat with her to discuss what STO's role have been in promoting Seoul, it was obvious how fortunate Seoul is to have her in the post, for she has bestowed her love of the city into the hearts of the outside world.
Korea launched the tourism promotion campaign “Visit Korea Year 2010-2012.” With such active promotion from the Korean government, what part, if any, is carried out by the Seoul Tourism Organization?
Seoul was the official co-host city for the inaugural year of this three year national tourism campaign and continues to be so for 2011. STO has emphasized this campaign in all our marketing efforts, be it at international tradeshows, presentations, media advertisements and websites.
Many people are not aware of MICE in particular, can you explain to readers about MICE?
This is true of the tourism industry in general here in Korea. Much is made of industries that produce a tangible product. Most do not realize the powerful potential tourism has to generate revenue. The product? The very destination itself. Furthermore, MICE (events and the participants they attract to the destination Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) are proven to produce even greater revenue than leisure tourism at the rate of 1.6 to 1.7 times.
Seoul city is 9th in the world as holding conferences. What do you believe are the key factors as a city in hosting more global conferences?
Infrastructure and services as well as complementary attractions are key factors. For example, having access to the hotels in close proximity of conference location and also being able to locate restaurants is important. For this reason, STO has launched the iPhone App, iTour Seoul which provides guide to just about anything that the foreigner might need. We are working on various other ways to improve this App, like having a location imputed in the iPhone and then, automatically translating it into Korean for Taxi drivers to locate. The iPhone is also available to rent during their visit to Seoul.
What strategic implementations is STO planning to raise the city's rank as the Mecca of MICE?
The recent establishment of and membership in FCCI (Future Convention Cities Initiative), will boost the city of Seoul to become a future Mecca of MICE. On March 21, 2011, FCCI was launched with 7 city members consisting of Seoul, London, San Francisco, Sydney, Toronto, Abu Dhabi, and Durban of South Africa. The 3rd MICE Global Leadership Forum was held on the following day March 22 to discuss further enhancing the membership cities to host MICE.
In such efforts, Seoul succeeded in hosting the Int'l Dragon Award (IDA) on August 4 to 7 this year as well as SKAL World Congress 2012 scheduled to be held on Oct. 2 to 7, 2012. As a city, it must consider that to be the Mecca of MICE, which is sometimes planned as long as 10 years in advance, it must try to maintain consistent staff members to steadily liaison with global events.
What do you believe are the accomplishments you have achieved so far since you took the post?
One of the biggest accomplishments is hosting the SKAL World Congress 2012 in Seoul. I can say that awareness of Seoul has also definitely increased. I came into this post with confidence in the product: the city of Seoul as a destination. I have added my outside perspective in all that we do and my strong belief in our attributes has resonated not only with our international audiences, but here in Korea as well. STO has brought the city of Seoul to life; we have personified it with a positive perspective; we have smashed old stereotypes.
Not a lot of foreigners know about the Seoul Tourism Organization, what measures are taken in letting foreigners know more about the organization as well as access to the services readily available to them? Are there any complementary measures to address such a sticking point?
This is always a challenge both at home and abroad. Within the industry, we are very active in professional organizations and take an active role at all major tradeshows and educational congresses. Just recently, we have attended int'l conventions in Singapore and Sydney to do exactly this.
Please introduce specific events, if any, planned for the remainder of this year as well as for the upcoming year 2012.
We will participate at IMEX in Frankfurt, Germany. This is one of the largest annual industry events with 3,500 exhibitors, 3,600 buyers and 5,000 participants expected to attend. Seoul will have a booth on the tradeshow floor, meet privately with buyers, do group presentations on Seoul and its MICE capabilities as well as participate in other marketing functions.
Please tell us how you came to take the current post? Do you personally have any goals you wish to achieve during your post in STO?
Seems Korea has always been a part of my life. I have held positions at both Korean Airlines and KTO before taking this position. So when the city of Seoul established STO in February 2008, my combination of tourism expertise and deep understanding of Korea made me an ideal candidate for the position. I was recruited in June 2008. I knew this was Seoul’s first step in the right direction to take charge of marketing the city. I felt it was vital to be at the headquarters office to be most effective. My goal? It is to establish Seoul as a leading top of mind destination for both tourism and business events.
As a foreigner yourself, please share your suggestion for raising the revisit rates of the first time visitors to Korea and perhaps an insight into what you feel needs to improve as a nation to attract more active tourist visit.
It is important to always keep the customer in mind. We need to remember that what the visitor finds interesting and what they want to see may differ entirely from what we think they want to see and do. Secondly, remember that one size does not fit all: different target markets have different wants and needs. And thirdly, we need continued improvement regarding communication and information. We are talking hospitality: we must make our visitors feel welcome and that means they must be comfortable -If they can’t communicate while, that won’t be the case. If signs, attraction explanations and guides are poor, this is a problem; being well informed is just the first step.
Lastly, you've lived in Korea during your childhood and so many years later you came back as an adult. Please tell us what your honest opinion of how Korea has changed over the years and what could be done more to improve overall as a nation as well as the tourist destination in general.
People are often surprised when I say that at its core, the Korea I came to love as a young high school student has not changed. I like to say we've grown up together, improving through the years - wiser, modern, and sophisticated. I lived in Seoul in 1972 - even then, with a population of 5 million - it was a big city - the tallest building was 31 storey's, few private cars, but still a good public transport system was in place - I could get anywhere by bus or taxi. The palaces reflected the ancient royal days of Seoul - while skyscrapers were going up looking toward the future. Koreans were kind, friendly and hardworking. Though simpler in those days, Korean hospitality was part of their nature; we met in tea rooms instead of coffeehouses; we listened to music played by a DJ instead of singing along in Noraebangs (Karaoke), we enjoyed traditional Korean meals and played a lot of ping pong! We shopped in the large markets of Namdaemun and Dongdaemun. Now, we have improved and added so much: with more variety and choices. Seoul has doubled in most ways: Gangnam and Gangbuk; buildings twice as high, population twice as much, so now you can enjoy twice as much and have twice as much fun too!
We must realize that while our accomplishments are many and we have much to be proud of, we remain an unknown to many. To be successful as a destination and an industry, we must work together; we need to be united. Our message must be both consistent and constant. We must make sure that our attractions and services meet the expectations of the global traveler. Competition is fierce; we must develop a destination that is both attractive and appealing.