As borders reopen and travel restrictions across Asia continue to ease, face-to-face meetings are back on the agenda – and no destination is more adept at meeting the needs of event planners in the post-Covid era than Seoul.
Even as we return to the skies, the virtual technology boom of the two years has changed the way we meet – the demand for hybrid events continues, while in-person delegates are eager to rediscover the great outdoors and feel the energy of big cities, often looking for opportunities to mix business and leisure.
A smart city powered by a world-leading ICT sector, Seoul’s MICE industry pioneered several virtual meeting platforms in the wake of the pandemic, and has mastered hybrid events. But beyond the high-tech infrastructure, the city is surrounded by an awe-inspiring natural landscape, where corporate groups can unplug to reconnect with nature.
A natural place to meet
The Hangang River, which runs through the city, is surrounded by 12 Hangang parks that have recently been revitalised as communal spaces for culture, art and leisure. While preserving the ecological and historical attributes of the area, each park has a designated theme with localised festivals and cultural programmes that visiting corporate groups can enjoy post meeting. Yeouido Park, for example, is renowned for the Hangang Spring Flower Festival, where visitors admire six kilometres of cherry blossoms.
More adventurous groups can take to the water, where canoeing and kayaking is available, or cycle along the river with a Ttareungi bike, the city’s bike sharing system. Team-building company WeRide also runs morning and evening bike tours around the city for groups of between 10 and 50 participants.
Seoul is set against a backdrop of rugged mountain ranges, with countless trekking and hiking trails. To connect with colleagues beyond the boardroom and take in the city from above, groups can explore Bukhansan mountain and national park, which has more than 20 large and small peaks, and trekking options to suit all abilities. The newly-opened Seoul Hiking Tourism Center, located five minutes away from Bukhansan Ui Station, provides multilingual information, guidebooks and hiking gear rental (clothes and boots) free of charge. Amenities such as changing rooms, lockers and showers are also available. Reservations can be made online 48 hours prior to arrival.
Meetings with history and heritage
A city of contrasts, Seoul is home to a heady mix of new and old. While the city’s 5G network and tech-enabled venues make modern meeting a breeze, a variety historical sites can also be hired exclusively for events, offering a unique view into the past.
The former presidential palace, Cheong Wa Dae, also known as the Blue House because of its striking tiled roof, opened to the public in May and its State Guest House – previously used to host banquets for visiting heads of state – can now be booked for events of up to 100 people.
Meanwhile, Namsan Hanok Village provides a glimpse into a bygone era, featuring five restored hanok (traditional Korean houses) from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and a sprawling garden. Events, cultural performances and team-building activities can be hosted in the courtyard.
Korea House, an elegant hanok that flaunts royal architecture and cuisine, can accommodate up to 120 banqueting guests or 150 for cocktails.
For team building with a taste of the traditional, corporate groups can explore the picturesque grounds around Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palace while wearing hanbok (traditional Korean dress). Hanboknam caters for group bookings, where the cost of hanbok rental includes palace admission.
Corporate groups (up to 20 pax) can also put their problem-solving skills to the test during an exclusive night visit to Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung or Deoksugung Palace. While uncovering the rich history embedded in the palace, groups find clues to complete activities that make the most of the unique locale.
Hybrid, high-tech venues
When it comes to international meetings, Seoul’s innovative MICE infrastructure is second to none. As far as convention centres go, Coex has long been a regional leader. Located in the city’s Gangnam district the 460,000-sqm venue recently underwent a digital transformation with the launch of Studio 159, a state-of-the-art broadcast studio for virtual and hybrid events.
Korea’s first purpose-built broadcast studio for events, Studio 159 features a 12-metre-long curved LED screen and the latest audio-visual equipment to facilitate all forms of digital production and streaming. The venue can accommodate up to 100 in-person delegates and includes a boardroom, green room and sleek VIP lounge.
Meanwhile, hotels such as Grand Hyatt Seoul and Conrad Seoul have invested in technology such as 360 VR cameras, HD projectors and LED walls for immersive hybrid meetings. The later has also developed ‘easy-to-eat’ menu options of Korean, Western or Japanese bento.
Amid the suite of digital resources that Seoul Tourism Organization (STO) developed to help event planners pivot to virtual and hybrid meetings, the 3D event platform Virtual Seoul 2.0 leads the pack.
The interactive virtual city, complete with historical buildings and landmarks that mirror the South Korean capital, features nine venues – including Seoul City Hall and Seoul Tourism Plaza – and more than 20 virtual event functions such as simultaneous breakout sessions, pre-matched meetings between buyers and sellers, and conferences that embed both live streaming and video-on-demand.
While a recently upgraded Content Management System (CMS) allows event planners to easily customise the platform without going through IT staff, Virtual Seoul 2.0 can also be harnessed as a free online tool for virtual site inspections.
Support and safety
STO provides customised support programmes and subvention funding to event planners looking to host international conferences, incentive programmes and exhibitions in Seoul.
International travellers are no longer required to provide a negative pre-departure Covid test result to enter South Korea, however a PCR test is required within 24 hours of arrival and results uploaded to the country’s Quarantine COVID19 Defence (Q-Code) system. Testing appointments can be booked prior to travel at Incheon Airport’s dedicated Testing Center.
While restrictions continue to ease, masks are still required in indoor public places, on public transport or at outdoor gatherings with more than 50 people.
To support the return of in-person meetings, STO also offers a specialised MICE safety service that includes language assistance and medical interpreters, cleaning and disinfection of the event venue, and the provision of masks and hand sanitiser.
This article is brought to you by Seoul Tourism Organization.