Korea is experiencing a new burst of zest in its campaign to position itself as one of the top three Mice destinations in the world.
The land of Samsung and Hyundai is also targeting the Middle East, which it sees as an area of potential, even as it builds up its markets in China, Japan, Southeast Asia and the West.
With arrivals of 6.12 million visitors in 2014, up 42 per cent over the previous year, China has emerged as a top source of tourists including business travellers, but Cho Hee Jin, a senior Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) official, also said rising economic power Vietnam is proving to be an important market.
Jin, who is director of KTO’s Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) promotion team, told journalists invited to Korea by KTO that Middle East arrivals were not significant but that the region could emerge as one in coming years with Korea’s medical facilities gaining in appeal among Arabs.
'The Middle East is among the fastest increasing markets of Korea’s medical tourism. Korea believes an overspill of general and medical tourism will further attract Middle East organisations in holding Mice events in Korea in the future,' said Jin.
Recognising the possibilities, Korea has established prayer rooms in certain tourist sites and convention centres. It has published a Halal Food/Restaurant guide that mainly provides information on how and where to get halal products.
'Korea vows on improving and adding more facilities to offer convenience to Muslim tourists in the country,' emphasised Jin.
Korea is keen that Middle Eastern visitors also look at offerings beyond medical tourism.
During an expo held by KTO in Incheon, a fast-emerging Mice hub near Seoul, Oh Sea Yeon, a young lady working for the Korean Mice campaign, reflected on Arabs holidaying in the country. 'They manifest much curiosity and find the differences in language, food and customs very interesting,' she observed. Yeon has a suggestion for Korean authorities: 'Help Arabs rent traditional costumes for a couple of hours during visits to our palaces. It would make them feel like princes or princesses of the relevant dynasties. I’m sure it would give them a big thrill, just as it would give me if I wore a traditional hijab in their land.'
Good as business is in the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions sector, Korean tourism authorities are scouting for more of the same.
Recently Kintex, Korea’s largest convention centre located in Goyang, Gyeonggi province, was the venue of the Rotary International Convention which had the participation of 50,000 delegates. Large as that gathering was, the centre could hold easily another 20,000.
Kintex has two venues offering a total of more than 125,000 sq m of indoor and outdoor space. There are also five halls for exhibitions and 17 for meetings.
Seoul has grand facilities of its own while nearby Incheon, with its economic free zone and natural assets, also beckons.
The capital’s Coex Centre boasts 36,000 sq m of exhibition space with specialised expo halls that can be partitioned into 12 separate rooms. The convention hall has space for up to 7,000 people. Other Coex highlights: 54 meeting rooms and office space, a mall and a special tourist zone dedicated to the Mice industry.
Over the years, Coex has hosted numerous events including the G20 summit in 2010, which brought in 15,000 visitors.
The Seoul Mice industry is also boosted by three exquisitely built floating islands on the Han River whose attractions include a convention hall, a multipurpose hall, a marina, restaurants, shops and a Media Art Gallery.
In nearby Incheon, the Songdo Convensia takes pride of place for the Mice industry, offering two exhibition halls, a premier ballroom and 23 conference rooms of various sizes.
Korean cities well away from Seoul are contributing to KTO’s mission. For example, Busan, Korea’s largest port city in the southeastern tip of the Korean Peninsula and 314 km from Seoul, is seeking specialisation in marine, maritime and engineering events to attract more such events.
Busan, whose main attractions include the Haeundae Beach, a marina and shopping malls, saw approximately $200 million in tourism income in 2015, a 10 per cent increase over the previous year, said Daniel Kim, manager of the Busan Mice sales team, at the Korea Mice Expo (KME) that was held at the Songdo Convensia in Incheon’s International Business District.
Tommy Lee, global marketing team leader for Goyang, a 20-minute highway drive north from Seoul, said at his expo stall, 'The incentives business in Goyang comes mostly from Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. We’ve recorded strong increases in foreign tourists. In 2013 we had 30,000 and in 2014 the figure jumped to 100,000; last year it was 120,000. This year we’re expecting 200,000.'
Discussing tourism business in Gyeongnam, near Busan, the assistant marketing manager for the area, Chandler Mun, said at the KME event, 'We have a conventions business and many hotels, mostly three-star. There are two international hotel brands. We will boost accommodation infrastructure and are endeavouring to draw investments.'
The province has a long coastline and boasts several islands and a national park called Hallyeosudo. Tourism is helped by a cable car in Tongyeong which affords great views. Most visitors are Chinese with Japanese forming the next largest group. A top draw is the Yeojwacheon Cherry Blossom Festival in the capital Changwon.
The Winter Olympics, to be held in 2018 in Pyeongchang, will bring into focus many Mice opportunities in and around the Olympic sites in Gangwon province including musical festivals and ice events featuring sculptures plus winter sports championships.
Korea has welcomed several large corporate groups since January, including McDonalds and dietary products maker Aurance from China and Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank. According to KTO, some 1.72 million people are expected to pay Mice-related visits in 2016, up 10 per cent over 2015.
Incentive tours have been lucrative for Korea. Aurance brought in 6,000, while Nanjing Joymain Ski & Tech Development, also from China, sent 8,000 earlier this year. Incentive groups in recent years included a 15,000-strong contingent from Amway China.
By Salvador Almeida
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
Published monthly by Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing Group, the region’s foremost trade publisher, TTN is aimed at professionals in the industry, from travel agents to airline and hotel personnel.
TTN provides in-depth and extensive coverage of relevant issues in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in other parts of the world. Travel related news, analysis, and new appointments together with information on up-coming exhibitions, marketing and promotional campaigns are presented in an innovative and striking colour tabloid.
Every issue also contains a collation of international and regional news and topical features of interest to readers.