The first essential for any aspiring MICE destination is connectivity. Incheon has no problems on that score. South Korea’s third-largest city hosts the nation’s premier international gateway, Incheon International Airport. The world converges here, and convenient domestic routes by rail, road and air fan out across the country.
When the airport opened in 2001, Incheon initially served merely as a waypoint. But ambitious developments in the past decade, most notably the futuristic waterside district of Songdo (which covers an area equivalent to the footprint of downtown Boston), established Incheon as a destination in its own right.
The MICE sector stands at the forefront of efforts to siphon off some of the 48 million passengers flowing through the airport each year. In 2008 the city unveiled the landmark Songdo Convensia Convention Centre, Asia’s first certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) convention facility.
Resembling an angular remodeling of Sydney’s famous Opera House, Convensia features a 90,590-square-foot, pillar-free exhibition hall with capacity for up to 450 exhibition booths, as well as a flexible variety of specialized large, medium and small conference spaces. The complex is equipped with all the latest technology, including high-speed broadband, interpretation facilities and radio-frequency identification tags for enhanced security. Amenities include a cafeteria for up to 200 people, a bank, a business center and a store selling office supplies.
Towering over Convensia — literally — is Korea’s tallest building, the 68-floor Northeast Asia Trade Tower. Oakwood Premier Incheon occupies the tower’s upper floors, offering 5-star serviced apartments — a convenient home away from home for conference delegates. The property also features four meeting rooms, ideal for private meetings away from the main conference center.
Also close to Convensia, with ample meeting facilities of its own, the Sheraton Grand Incheon Hotel boasts 17 function rooms, including a ballroom with capacity for up to 500 people in a theater-style layout. As with Convensia, the Sheraton takes pride in its environmental credentials (it also has LEED certification) and offers dedicated eco-friendly meeting packages.
In the midst of Songdo’s striking modernity, the Gyeongwonjae Ambassador Hotel offers an atmospheric throwback to the Koryo Dynasty, which thrived until 1392. The hotel is a sprawling reconstruction of a traditional village set within tranquil gardens. The rooms remain distinctly Korean while discretely integrating all modern conveniences. A large banquet hall, also in traditional style, provides a variety of options for business events.
As with any up-and-coming, built-from-scratch district, Songdo at times struggled to strike a balance between ongoing development and the provision of visitor facilities. At times the number of guestrooms in Songdo lagged behind demand, and at other times it has run ahead. Perhaps one misstep was the construction of the quirky Benikea Songdo Bridge Hotel, which boasted 248 rooms and a range of meeting facilities. Unfortunately, it was located in something of a wasteland two blocks south of Convensia75 and went into mothballs in July 2015.
Adjacent to Songdo lie the older, more established districts of Incheon. In bustling Namdong-gu, the Incheon Culture & Arts Center offers the 1,332-seat Grand Theater, the 511- seat Small Theater, a 144-seat conference hall and versatile exhibition halls, all in a strategic location at the heart of downtown close to the Metropolitan City Hall and the city’s flagship department stores.
For centuries, Incheon’s fortunes were tied to its port, which remains the second-busiest in South Korea. The Harbor Park Hotel, offering meeting facilities for groups of between 20 and 400 people, is located within sight of the busy wharfs and is also convenient to Jayu Park, one of the city’s most popular green spaces; Chinatown; and the promenade at Wolmido, the waterfront strip of amusement centers and restaurants which was the unlikely landing place for Gen. MacArthur’s American Forces during the Korean War.
For the ultimate in fly-in, fly-out meetings, the newly expanded Grand Hyatt Incheon offers convention facilities and accommodations three minutes from Incheon International Airport. The hotel offers a choice of expansive, pillar-free spaces as well as smaller drawing rooms and boardrooms. It sits within walking distance of the airport station from where a non-stop express service links to downtown Seoul in just 43 minutes.
Incheon has long been overshadowed by Seoul. The successful airport — regularly voted the world’s best — put the city firmly on the map, and the burgeoning MICE industry promises to persuade increasing numbers of business travelers to make Incheon their chosen destination in Korea.
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