The term of MICE industry, standing for meetings, incentive travels, conventions and exhibitions, is mainly used as a comprehensive concept to expand the scope of the relevant sectors. Often called "industry without chimney," the MICE industry is made up of MICE service providers and agents such as international conference planners, event and exhibition agencies and facility companies. However, in a broader sense, it covers backward industries like facility construction, food and beverage, entertainment and transport. When the backward segments are included, the size of the MICE market of Korea is estimated at 4,826 billion won as of 2009. It is thought to reach 1,479.6 billion won when only the MICE service providers are taken into account.
In January 2009, the Korean government chose the industry as one of its 17 future growth engines and established a roadmap to boost its scale to 22 trillion by 2018. In this context, 2012 has been declared "Korea MICE Year."
Recently, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) released statistical data regarding the current status of the global convention industry with the aid of the Union of International Associations (UIA). According to statistics, a total of 11,519 international conferences took place around the world in 2010. Korea played host to 464 of these, ranking eighth.
During the period, the global conference industry was at a standstill to some degree. However, the same can't be said for Korea, which hosted 464 conferences in 2010, 117 more from a year earlier. The United States was top of the list for two years in a row, attracting 936 such events, followed by Japan. The island nation, hosting 741 conferences, climbed three places from fifth, distinguishing itself as a new convention powerhouse of Asia. The top five also included Singapore (725), France (686) and Belgium (597).
In 2010, Asian countries made a great stride forward in the industry. Japan and Korea rose three places each from the year before, while Singapore made the top three. These three nations succeeded in further cementing their positions as leading convention destinations in Asia.
In Korea alone, Seoul City held 201 events out of the nation's 464, ranking fifth globally and second in Asia. Busan followed it at 17th and fourth, respectively. The port city, which hosted 93 international meetings, rose no less than 20 places year-on-year in the rankings. Jeju also put its name in the top 10 list in Asia, finishing 7th, and 27th worldwide after hosting 67 events. In the same year, Incheon held 22 events, Daejeon 18, Gwangju 12, Gyeong-ju 9, Daegu 8 and Goyang 7, showing a steady rise across the board.
“We joined the ranks of the 10 leading destinations earlier than expected and this can be attributed to many factors, such as the successful G20 Summit held in November last year, the government's policy efforts to nurture the industry and the KTO’s endeavors to refine the international standing of Korea as a MICE venue,” said Kang Seong-kil, director of the MICE Bureau of the KTO. He added, “The national tourism agency is cooperating with local convention bureaus and interested parties in order to gather statistical data and conduct market research activities, as well as expanding MICE Alliances so as to better carry out global marketing campaigns.”
Competitiveness of Korea’s MICE Sector
Nevertheless, the pace of growth and the industry size vis-à-vis GDP still lags behind those of advanced nations. The ratio of foreign participants in local MICE occasions is limited to approximately 2%, meaning the industry has a long way to go when it comes to its foreign exchange earning capability.
Another assignment for the MICE industry of Korea is to more closely link it with tourism and sightseeing. At present, those visiting Korea for MICE functions mostly spend their expenses on lodging and event registration, unlike MICE leaders globally. Such problems have been highlighted by industrial experts in recent years.
The sector’s growth rate for the last four years has barely reached 7.7%, while the nations’ manufacturing and service industries during the same period have recorded 9.56% and 8.44% in sales growth, respectively. The situation is also the same when the added value per employee and the added value ratio are taken into consideration.
The export ratio of the industry is at no more than 4.4%, whereas those of the game and animation sectors are running to 14.1% and 21.7%, respectively. It is said that the sector has to be more tightly interlinked with the tourism industry in order to increase the economic impact to a level on par with the overall service industry.
Experts are claiming that the advancement of the industrial value chain and improvement of the personnel and systemic infrastructure are the most important aspects of raising the growth potential of the industry. A higher level of efficiency is also needed across the entire process of MICE events, from attraction to follow-up services. In particular, these experts are demanding that MICE-related plans and activities be standardized and systematized so that the productivity can increase.
In order to obtain more foreign money, the roles of local convention bureaus as professional conference organizers (PCOs) and professional exhibition organizers (PEOs) need to be expanded, while the business meeting and incentive travel markets are further developed. Additionally, more practical policies will have to be put in place for the MICE sector to be more closely affiliated with other industries and create substantial synergy effects.
Also emphasized is the importance of getting a better grasp of the fast-changing customer needs. In the past, first-class hotels and convention facilities sufficed to attract international events. However, those are now seen everywhere, meaning innovative unique ideas must be sought.
Seoul City has a lot of work to do to become a leader in the global MICE industry. Its rivals like Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai are no pushovers, and all of them are building state-of-the-art convention centers in order to appeal to more conference-goers, convention planners and tourists.
Korea has marketed and publicized its cuisine, traditional and popular cultures, TV dramas and K-pop singers around the world for the past 10 years, and as a result, an increasing number of non-Koreans are keenly interested in the nation. However, many of them are pinpointing the shortage of a shrewd and adroit marketing as the biggest soft spot of Seoul. Now is the time for the capital city to promote itself as a sought-after destination to international businesses.
Of the various elements making up a successful MICE venue, experience counts more than the others. The Korean government should not forget the significance of the hardware aspects of the industry, that is, convention infrastructure and products. Furthermore, the training of MICE service providers should not be thought light of to bring up the quality of hospitality.
Korea’s MICE sector rose to sudden prominence on the global arena, and now countries around the world are watching to see if it will become a front runner in the global convention industry. To achieve this, the Korean government would be well advised to ask itself what visions, strategies and resources it has for the future.