Seoul City is trying to further enhance its comparative advantage in the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry. To that end, the Capital is expanding its networks home and abroad while stepping up relevant marketing overseas. At the center of such efforts is Ahn Seung-il, Director General of Culture and Tourism, Seoul Metropolitan Government. BusinessKorea met him to hear what specific efforts he is making for the city to get the upper hand in the global arena.
Q: Seoul City was recently ranked 5th in the international convention destination list released by the Union of International Association (UIA). Could you give our readers some details about this?
A: Headquartered in Belgium, the UIA is one of the world's most authoritative organizations for such lists. According to its international convention statistics for 2010, Seoul City hosted 201 international conventions and ranked 5th in 2010. In 2009, it had hosted 151 and held 9th place. Meanwhile, between the two years, Korea in total jumped from 11th to 8th by increasing the number from 347 to 464.
Such accomplishments are even more meaningful as Seoul beat Geneva and Berlin, two cities with high convention-industrial competitiveness due to the numerous headquarters of international organizations located there.
Seoul, since 2006, has carried out extensive marketing activities overseas, while running strategic backup systems in order to join the ranks of the world’s top five convention-friendly cities. These systems are considered to be both well-balanced and well-organized. During the period, the city has increased its international convention subsidies up to 200 million won per entity. At the same time, it has taken advantage of the G20 Summit in Seoul in order to conduct more effective target marketing in European cities like London and Brussels, where international organizations are concentrated.
Considering the time and place of a conference being generally settled two to eight years prior to the actual event, I think it is fair to say that Seoul City’s multi-faceted, consistent efforts from 2006, which have been made under the leadership of mayor Oh Se-hoon, have just begun to bear fruit. Seoul is currently regarding the convention industry as one of its future growth engines. The 22nd World Congress of Dermatology, which took place between May 24 and 29 this year, is a good example of such continuous endeavors, with Seoul having striven to host it since 2007. The event was considered a great success, and was attended by over 12,000 participants.
Q: What do you think Seoul should do to sharpen its competitive edge in the industry?
A: Not content with its heightened international standing, Seoul City is intending to further enhance its comparative advantage in the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry.
To that end, it is going to keep expanding its domestic and overseas networks, while stepping up relevant marketing overseas. Furthermore, it will redouble its efforts in terms of convention infrastructure in order to get the upper hand in the global arena.
The Flossom Zone, which was opened in May, is a case in point. The zone is equipped with a variety of facilities for international conventions against the beautiful backdrop of the Han River. Meanwhile, Dongdaemun Design Plaza, designed by world-famous architect Zaha Hadid, will be presenting itself in April 2013 as a landmark in the vicinity of Dongdaemun Market. In the meantime, the Seoul Station Convention Center will reveal itself in 2016 as a cutting-edge, future-oriented conference facility, and with a size equivalent to that of the COEX in Samsung-dong.
Q: Please explain what the MICE industry can do to invigorate the regional economy of Seoul.
A: According to the Korea Tourism Organization’s 2008 report analyzing the economic impact of international conventions, those who visited Korea to participate in an international conference or exhibition spent US$2,488 on average, while ordinary tourists spent approximately US$1,273 during their stay.
The size of the MICE industry of Seoul is estimated at 2,779.1 billion won according to recent data. In 2009, Seoul hosted 614 events falling under the MICE category. Those functions attracted 316,773 business tourists in total, with the production and labor inducement effects derived from it totaling 4,271.7 billion won and 31,273 man-days, respectively. The latter can be translated into 13.8 man-days per one billion won of sales.
Q: What does Seoul City have in store to nurture its MICE sector?
A: Currently, the city is running all-in-one MICE attraction support systems, while conducting target marketing activities in Europe and Southeast Asia. In addition, the city is striving to become an international convention powerhouse by expanding its conference and exposition infrastructure.
Let me explain our support measures by subsector, i.e., business meetings, incentive travel, international conventions and exhibitions. These four are slightly different in character and require different approaches.
In the international convention segment, we are offering up to 200 million won in subsidies through the three stages of attraction, promotion and hosting. For business meetings, the in-kind support during the promotion and hosting phases reaches 30 million won per entity. This takes the form of visitor travel cards, airport limousine tickets, City Tour passes, and venue rent, etc.
When it comes to exhibitions, it is focusing its assistance on those related to its eight future growth engines in a bid to expedite the globalization of the industries. Furthermore, it is trying to beef up the overall MICE sector’s competitiveness by concentrating on international expos.
Q: What is Seoul City’s overseas marketing strategies to expand the MICE industry?
A: One of the most important factors is close collaboration with relevant agencies. The city, on June 28 this year, formed the Seoul MICE Alliance and signed cooperation agreements with 72 bodies, including convention centers, hotels, production agencies, airlines, international conference planners and travel agencies. Building on this, the city will scale up its marketing campaigns overseas.
In the meantime, it led the foundation of the Future Convention Cities Initiative (FCCI) back in March this year. The organization is a coalition of seven convention cities, including London, Sydney and Abu Dhabi. Seoul is going to lead the MICE industrial trend in the framework of the FCCI, while proceeding with joint marketing activities and efforts to host more international events.
Seoul classifies overseas markets into three categories in order to raise the efficiency of its local promotions: Europe and Southeast Asia, where a large number of international organizations are situated, are its primary target, China and Australia, where the industry is growing at a fast clip, is the secondary target; and the Americas and Middle East are a potential target.
More briefing sessions will be held in the primary target areas jointly with the public and private sectors. Meanwhile, the city will establish promotion booths at MICE events in the Americas, Europe and Asia in order to act as a magnet for relevant customers.
Q: Would you preview the International Dragon Award, one of the biggest MICE occasions scheduled for the second half of 2011?
A: This year’s IDA will be held between August 4 and 7 at the COEX, and attended by insurance companies and financial institutions of Greater China. The number of participants is expected to top 5,700. Seoul has become the first non-Greater Chinese city, which makes the occasion even more worthwhile.
I believe the award will be a chance for us to give another boost to the number of inbound tourists and business travelers from Greater China. To attract the IDA, Seoul has bent over backward since early last year. The mayor and deputy mayor have met with those in the arrangement committee, while the KTO and COEX have also significantly contributed to winning over the meticulous Chinese entrepreneurs.