Destination Audit Seoul – Your Complete Convention City

Seoul MICE

From agriculture to manufacturing, Korea is now shifting to services. It is a major international player in automobiles, petrochemicals, electronics, shipbuilding, textiles, and steel industries. Since 2004, just semi conductors, automobiles and wireless telecom devices have contributed for over 30% of Koreas total trade volume and exports of IT products have risen since 1998 to reach US$ 126.4 trillion worth of exports in 2010. In 2010 Korea’s GPD was US$ 1,014.3 billion, what ranked her 15th in the world (Korea Tourism Organization, 2012).

Seoul is the capital of Korea and is situated in South Korea. In traditional Korean language the word Seoul means Capital. The Baekjae Dynasty established it as a capital in 18 BC and then kept it for 476 years. When they moved further to Gongju area Seoul lost its capital status but the area remained popular and fights between the three kingdoms of Korea, namely Baekjae, Goguryeo and Shinra, took place over the possession of the Seoul area, what emphasised its importance. In 1394, the South Korean city Seoul regained its capital status and since then has developed into a cultural and economic center.

During the Choseon dynasty the city was renamed to “Hanyang” and during the Japanese Imperialism to Gyeongseongbu. It got back its name Seoul after the Koreans independence in August 1945 and one year later the Korean government was established (Seoul Metropolitan Government, 2012).

Today the city is divided into 5 major zones: City Hall, Yeouido, Yongsan, Gangdong and Gangnam (Seoul Tourism Organization, 2010). According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, in 2011 the population counted 10,581,728 local citizens and 273,945 foreigners.

As Korea, Seoul is known for its technology and sustainability. Other aspects which make the city attractive for MICE business are entertainment offer, art and culture, hospitality and cuisine, shopping and security. In addition, Seoul has gained a reputation of hosting large scale international events, such as 10th Biennial Conference International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) for 2,000 delegates in 2010, the 22nd World Congress of Dermatology in 2011 for 15,000 and has already secured events for 2016, one of them being 2016 Rotary International Annual Convention for 50,000 delegates, the biggest so far.

Korea’s MICE industry is a fast growing industry and Seoul was the first Asian country to host the G20 Summit in 2010. The industry is now recognised as an independent economic sector and in accordance with the “2010- 2012 Visit Korea Year” campaign, the “Korea MICE Year 2012” was launched, a campaign put in place to promote the country’s event infrastructure.

This post will give an overview to what makes Seoul an attractive MICE destination. Firstly it will look at infrastructure, including hotels, transportation, venues and other service providers. Secondly it will present MICE statistics from 2010 and 2011 and will conclude by presenting the marketing activities that Korea and Seoul do to promote the destination worldwide.

Destination Infrastructure Audit

Hotel capacity

The offer in Seoul includes international chains as well as local brands which are equally popular and of high standards. Most of the hotels are conveniently located near convention centres and airports.

Star rating # of hotel # of rooms
5 129 32,937
4 180 14,968
3 121 6,126
2 71 3,686
1 109 6,437
Total: 610 64,154

*Approximate hotel capacity (Korea Tourism Organization, 2012).

There are two convention centers to be completed by 2013 and 2015 respectively and therefore new hotels to be built to correspond to the growing demand (Yue, 2012).

Many hotels in Seoul such as Westin Chosun Hotel Seoul, The Hotel ELLUI, Imperial Palace Hotel, Grand Intercontinental Seoul, Grand Hyatt Seoul etc. offer meeting and conference facilities for a large number of delegates and therefore serve as event venues as well.

Transport infrastructure and connectivity

The destination is accessible from all over the world and has two airports. The biggest and the most modern is Incheon International Airport and is approximately one hour drive from Seoul. The airport is served by 70 Airlines and connects to 162 cities worldwide. The second is Gimpo International Airport and is located about 30 minutes drive from Seoul city centre.

When in Seoul, there are several transportation options to move within the city. The fastest and the easiest is the Metro which is connected to all city parts. It is very modern and provides guidance both in English and Korean languages. Another options are the taxis which are easy to find in the central areas and inexpensive. Also, one can use the Water Taxi which traverse the Han River and provides the fastest possibility to cross the city (less than 30 minutes). Last but not least, one can use the car rental services located in Seoul (Seoul Tourism Organisation, 2010).


  1. 1.      Coex Convention & Exhibition Center

The main exhibition venue in Seoul is Coex Convention & Exhibition Center which is located in Coex Mall, the largest underground shopping center in Asia. It was established in 1979 and inaugurated in 1986. It is very attractive for visitors because it has a variety of facilities including catering, shopping, entertainment, on- site accommodation as well as an airport terminal and easily accessible with public transportation. Coex has 4 main exhibition halls and 54 dividable meeting rooms (up to 90 spaces).

The venue is highly engaged in sustainability, and in 2004 it launched the “Green Campaign” to become a leader in the Green MICE industry. In 2008 an environmental administration committee was formed to manage and monitor all of Coex‘s environmental efforts, such as concrete carbon and waste reduction goals. It uses energy efficient technology, has water recycling system, ventilation upgrades and LED lighting (Coex, 2009).

  1. 2.      SETEC exhibition halls

SETEC consists of 3 exhibition halls and 4 meeting rooms with inside floor space of 15,630m2. The center is suitable to accommodate various functions, ranging from exhibitions and meetings to performances. It is about 60 minutes away from Incheon International Airport and is fully equipped with wide range of supporting facilities (Seoul Tourism Organization, 2010).

  1. 3.      Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Exhibition Centre

New conference space is being created, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Exhibition Centre (DDP) and to be completed in 2013. The venue is designed by the famous architect Zaha Hadid. The venue will be spread over 85,000m2 of floor space with three floors in the basement and four above the ground. It will comprise two convention halls, an exhibition centre, conferences and VIP rooms, a retail mall and an educational centre.  According to Paul Kang, DDP director “The plan is for DDP to host arts- and culture-related shows, and although it will have convention and exhibition spaces, it will be recognised as a unique venue. DDP is also positioned as the future trading hub for fashion and creative innovation” (TTG Asia Media, 2012).

  1. 4.      Seoul Station Convention Centre

A centre under development is the Seoul Station Convention Centre, also referred to as Korail Convention Centre, in the Gangbuk area and is expected to open in 2015. The centre will spread over 50,000m2, out of which 23,000m2 will be conference facility, 16,000m2 exhibition spaces and the rest a multipurpose cultural space with 3,000 seat conference hall (TTG Asia Media, 2012).

Other Service Providers

According to Korea Tourism Organization website there are 76 Destination Management Companies, 118 Professional Convention Organisers and 5 Facility Equipment Rental companies in Seoul.

MICE Statistics

According to ICCA 2010 rankings, Korea was on 17th place with 186 meetings and Seoul on 16th place with 91 meetings. In the rankings of Asia Pacific & Middle East Seoul was 5th, after Singapore, Sydney, Taipei and Beijing (ICCA, 2011).

In 2011 Korea improved its rankings and was 15th with 207 meetings and Seoul 13th with 99 meetings. In the rankings of Asia Pacific & Middle East Seoul was 3rd after Singapore and Beijing (ICCA, 2012).

Destination Marketing

According Esmond Oh, President of Korea MICE Association, the main target segments are governments, academic society, association market and corporate incentive travel (Meeting The World, 2011).

Seoul Convention Bureau promotes Seoul as MICE destination with the slogan “Seoul: Your Complete Convention City”.

Marketing activities

The city is actively engaging on social media and has active accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  In June it conducted the “The Seoul Convention Bureau KME2012 Social Media Promotion” where it gave the opportunity for everyone who could not come to the Korea MICE expo to engage with the destination live on social media and win prizes (Seoul Tourism Organization, 2010).

Another marketing activity, which was not intended to be as such and that has put Seoul and Korea on the map was the release of the Gangnam Style single by the South Korean pop artist PSY. This single put a spotlight on Gangnam(Literally meaning “south of the rive”), the most affluent district in Seoul. Realising how viral the song is, the tourism organisations have decided to use it as a marketing activity, and at the World Travel Market the Korean booth was very popular and visitors could win a trip to Seoul and Gangnam.

Gangnam Style - Korean stand at the World Travel Market 2012, London

To increase the global profile and further develop the MICE industry through research and strategic development, in 2011 Seoul Tourism Organization was a founding member of the Future Convention Cities Initiative. This is an international cooperative of 7 member cities, London, Sydney, Toronto, San Francisco, Abu Dhabi, and Durban (Presidential Council on National Branding, 2012). All the members could be described as “new generation” of convention leaders who look to implement the use of latest technology, innovation and research to increase the economic benefits for their cities and the industry (Business Events Sydney, 2012).

This post is part of a full destination audit report about Seoul which was done for my International Destination Management course.

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