The Korean meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) industry is poised to emerge as a growth engine of the “creative economy,” to which the Park Geun-hye government is attaching top policy priority.
“The Korean MICE industry is likely to rise to third place in the world in terms of competitiveness within four or five years,” said Min Min-hong, chief of the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) MICE Bureau, in an interview.
Despite the sagging global economy, out of the 10,498 international meetings held during 2012, Korea attracted 563, ranking 5th in the world, following number one Singapore with 952 gatherings, Japan with 731 meetings, the United States with 658, and Belgium with 591, according to 2012 MICE figures released by the Union of International Associations (UIA). Korea saw its UIA ranking of hosting international meetings rise to 5th in 2012, up one spot from 6th in 2011 to become number three in Asia, following Singapore and Japan.
Wrapping up the 2010-2012 Visit Korea Years, the nation saw inbound arrivals surpass the 10 million barrier in 2012. Korea, which declared 2012 Korea Convention Year, saw the number of participants in MICE events top 1 million.
Min, with a three-year stint as the KTO New York Branch chief, is versed in the trends of the U.S. tourism industry and paints an optimistic picture of the Korean MICE industry. “In 2012, 1 million foreign visitors, accounting for 10 percent of that year’s total inbound arrivals, were MICE participants, so the industry has a high future growth potential since MICE tourists spend 1.8 times more money than ordinary tourists do.”
A boost in the Korean MICE industry amidst the gloomy global economic situation is owed to the private sector and the government’s efforts to lure more international meetings and a fast growth of the global incentive tourism segment, he said. “Of late, the demand for incentive tourism programs from such neighboring countries as China and Southeast Asian countries has surged sharply, and an interministry networking to attract this demand has paid off,” he noted. Min went on to say, “In particular, it is fantastic that smaller regional cities have made a strong showing by attracting two or three mega MICEs.”
China Baojian Goods Co.’s decision to send its 25,000 employees on incentive tours to Korea during 2014 made headlines last year. The KTO promised the Chinese multi-level sales company that the Chinese tourists will not experience any inconveniences upon arrival and suggested the dividing of large-sized delegations into several cruise tour groups.
“As it comes to incentive tours, clients as well as hosting organizations have to adopt a differentiated concept, incorporating medical, shopping, and other commercialized service modules,” Min said. He added that Korea needs to create MICE standards offering fast services, health check-ups, skin care, herbal medical care, and other differentiated services and strengthen its capacity to develop tour-related international events.
Min said the KTO strives to make the most of a national network covering nine areas across the nation, comprised of more than 600 member organizations. This network must step up its efforts to host international meetings through secretariats of international organizations. He stressed the need for forming an overall network involving local government bodies, transportation, and accommodation communities so that tourists can enjoy their stay here.
Korea is stepping on the gas to beef up cooperative networking between the government and the private sector and establish infrastructure for educating expert manpower. More than 20 colleges and universities have MICE-related courses. The Korea Mice Association plays leading roles in nourishing tourism experts.
The KTO plans to hold education programs that bring in experts from the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) and the UIA. In cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST), the KTO recently hosted a seminar on the facilitation of hosting international meetings with the goal of Korea rising to the global top three in the rankings of hosting international meetings. The MCST and the KTO plan to build a nationwide cooperative infrastructure for educating working-level officials of government and public organizations in charge of international cooperation and spreading successful practices for hosting international meetings.
Citing the model case of Songdo, Incheon, becoming home to the Secretariat of the Global Climate Fund, Min emphasized the importance of the government’s support and understanding. “Hosting of the Secretariat will bring huge economic benefits as well as create more than 100 relevant international meetings on a yearly basis, and these will serve as opportunities for Korea to take a step forward,” he opined.
Min Min-hong, chief of the Korea Tourism Organization
(KTO) MICE Bureau [Photos on courtesy of KTO]
The nation is required to develop qualitative and creative content differentiating itself from other countries to transform the MICE industry into a new growth engine behind the development of the creative economy. He said, “As it comes to content, creating new demand will be possible through a combination of Hallyu (the Korean Wave), K-pop, traditional Korean culture, and medical tour, etc.
In the second half of the year, he said, Korea will be the venue of such mega international meetings as the 20th IACG World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics; the 27th IUSSP International Congress; the 2013 IEEE Nuclear Science Symposium and Medical Imaging Conference; the 9th World Congress of Chemical Engineering incorporating the 15th Asia-Pacific Conference of the Chemical Engineering Congress; and the XIII Congress of Toxicology. A total of more than 2,000 people, half of the participants from foreign countries, are to participate in the aforementioned international meetings.