As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to challenge conventional thinking about meetings and events, convention bureaus across Asia are reimaging how cities can foster business connections and knowledge exchange for a hybrid future — and none more so than Seoul.
A frontrunner in digital innovation, Seoul Convention Bureau (SCB) has created a suite of digital resources to help event planners pivot to virtual and hybrid meetings.
These tools support both face-to-face and screen-to-screen business interactions, with the destination enhancing its information and communications technology infrastructure, while enforcing stringent health and safety measures for in-person events.
A virtual city for conferences and exhibitions
Amid ongoing travel restrictions, SCB created a 3D virtual replica of Seoul in order to continue to ‘host’ international meetings and events throughout the pandemic. The interactive virtual city, complete with historical buildings and landmarks that mirror the South Korean capital, was used to host the Union of International Associations (UIA) Associations Round Table – Asia-Pacific 2020 last September.
Working closely with SCB, UIA hosted two days of workshops, conference sessions and virtual tours in a number of the city's iconic venues.
The main conference, for instance, was held in the UNESCO World-Heritage-listed Changdeokgung Palace, and the famous Namsan Seoul Tower served as the information centre, where attendees could chat and download extensive information on MICE in Seoul. The floating island venues of Some Sevit hosted workshops, and Seoul Botanic Park was the site for group and one-on-one conversations.
A combination of pre-recorded virtual experiences — like a Korean cooking class or wellbeing session at Jingwansa temple —and live 360-degree tours were also embedded into the platform, where attendees had the opportunity to explore Namsangol Hanok Village and the Some Sevit floating island.
To keep attendees engaged and encourage them to explore ‘Virtual Seoul’, city tours were 'gamified' and, much like stamp-collection tours at live events, participants were encouraged to snap and share images on social media in order to win a prize.
Virtual site inspections are also embedded in the platform, featuring real-life visuals and augmented reality features that display useful information, like venue set-up and capacity limits, as attendees 'tour' the venue. There’s also the ability to ask live questions while on-site.
This immersive approach to virtual meetings proved a marvel of technology and organisation, and provided attendees with a sense of place. Following the success of the UIA Associations Roundtable, the Virtual Seoul Platform is now available for event planners to use and customise for any virtual or hybrid conference. Moving forward, the platform will integrate capabilities to host virtual exhibitions.
Team building in the metaverse
Pushing the bounds of digital engagement even further, SCB also introduced the Virtual Seoul Playground, a gamified 'metaverse' for interactive team building.
“As virtual MICE events increase, the importance of gamification and the use avatars to interact is on the rise," said SCB director, Jihyun Kim.
The Virtual Seoul Playground is peppered with games of varying degrees of difficulty to challenge groups, where cooperative play and tournaments can stimulate team spirit.
After logging into the programme, participants can select avatars — wearing hanbok no less — before participating in a series of Korean cultural activities set amid some of Seoul’s most iconic landmarks.
This includes making gimbap at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Changdeokgung Palace, or pitting skills over yut-nori (a local game in which players throw four sticks and move markers on a mat accordingly) in front of Seoul City Hall. Just as scenic are the islands of Some Sevit on the Hangang River, where participants can learn more about Seoul via a quiz before decorating lanterns to float down the river.
Leading the MICE industry into the ‘new norm’, Kim said Virtual Seoul Playground can be integrated into virtual and hybrid meetings to provide “an experience similar to the actual [live] experience”.
She added that such resources have allowed SCB to sustain destination marketing during the pandemic, and will be used to enrich in-person events once international travel resumes.
A hub for hybrid events
Event planners can also work with SCB to facilitate multi-hub hybrid meetings via the Hybrid City Alliance. The first bureau in Asia to join the coalition of convention bureaus including the Hague, Geneva, Prague, Ottawa, and Durban, the alliance offers a one-stop solution for multiple city hub events.
There are no fees involved in accessing the services of the alliance, where event planners can connect with one CVB and gain quick access to all other city partners. For planners in Asia, SCB can act as a central point of contact to engage with the other cities of interest.
No stranger to multi-hub meetings, Seoul was one of eight regional hubs that made up the 59th International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) Congress, which made history last November as the association’s first-ever hybrid, multi-hub event.
Embracing a ‘hub and spoke’ model, SCB supported ICCA programmes that were connected to the event’s main hub in Kaohsiung, as well as localised programmes for in-person attendees who joined the congress on-site at COEX. This included site inspections and networking events held in conjunction with strict health and safety measures.
SCB is also working with other MICE cities in South Korea to fortify the destination’s hybrid appeal. This includes plans to expand PLUS CITIES, a joint-destination marketing programme that currently features Seoul, Gangwon and Gwangju. Event planners can access PLUS CITIES support packages and itineraries that make it easier to organise multi-city meetings.
When the pandemic first hit, SCB established a series of support measures that have now become "permanent gears" for safe events.
This includes the PLUS SEOUL support programme, with a lowered minimum number of participants to access funding; and the Reassuring Package, which includes emergency medical insurance, the provision of personal hygiene materials such as face masks and hand sanitisation gels, language services, and transportation reservations.
SCB has also established Infection-free Zones for events – where venues are disinfected before and after events daily, and temperature screenings conducted via thermal imaging cameras.
Naturally, SCB’s expansion into the digital sphere — and its suite of digital MICE resources — will also bolster the safe return of in-person events.
Renewed support for planners
Making it more attractive for planners to plan virtual and hybrid meets in Seoul are the rounds of financial support available.
When booking the Virtual Seoul Playground, for instance, 3D graphics come as a complimentary add-on, while up to KRW$10 million (US$8,900) is also given as a stipend for operating expenses such as tech support staffing costs.
Event planners looking to hybrid conferences to Seoul can expect easier funding application requirements, while receiving customised support throughout. This includes consultation, official supporting letters, presentation tips and a maximum of KRW$200 million during the hosting phase.
In partnership with Seoul Convention Bureau.