One of the five largest cities in the world, with a population over 10 million, Seoul is a big, busy, bustling, modern metropolis that has been the center of Korea’s politics, economy and culture for six centuries.
South Korea has developed into a major trading power, with Seoul at its center. Currently, the service industry makes up the biggest part of South Korea’s gross domestic product; the second-biggest portion comes from manufacturing, most notably car production and electronics — especially semiconductors, of which South Korea is the world’s largest producer. Agriculture contributes less than 5 percent.
Like the rest of the world, South Korea has been troubled by the unstable global economy. Its currency has been affected by European and American financial instability, with the won’s value against the dollar dropping as much as 10 percent in September. Unemployment figures hover around 3 percent, and there’s worry about increasing diversion of corporate investments to China and other countries with lower wages. Despite all this, the country continues to move toward improving its standing in attracting international business.
Acutely aware of the importance of business travelers, Seoul strives to become one of the world’s top business event destinations. The city has just earned fifth place in the number of international meetings in 2010 as documented in the Statistics Report of the Union of International Associations. The city currently has more than 21,000 hotel rooms, with seven more luxury hotels due to open by the end of 2012. And with the completion of a convention center and business park at the Seoul Station in 2015, the city hopes to more than double its meetings capacity.
Locals are highly motivated to learn English, making them more appealing to employers looking to attract the Western market. And in Seoul in particular, the quest for international business travelers is high.
Besides working to make daytime business meetings and events appealing to Western markets, Seoul wants to show a more hip and happening side. One area that has changed is the nightlife. While traditional music and dance shows continue to be abundant, there are contemporary options as well. Nanta, for example, is a unique creative experience in which the whole show takes place in a kitchen, with the various cooking implements used as percussion instruments. Frenzied activity and traditional rhythms highlight this lightning-fast show. And for those who want to be where the action is, the Hongdae university district is the place to go. Karaoke bars, coffee houses, pubs and dance and jazz clubs are frequented by young locals and are open until the wee hours.
With demonstrated determination to court international business, South Korea is sure to capture more and more of the international events and meetings market.
Though at first glance it might seem that Seoul is all business, there are plenty of sights and activities to attract visitors of all ages.
The National Museum of Korea (168-6 Yongsan-dong 6-ga, Yongsan-gu,
tel 82 2 2077 9000, www.museum.go.kr) is dedicated to
preserving and passing along Korea’s heritage and houses, some of the country’s
most cherished and valuable treasures.
The National Folk Museum of Korea (tel 82 2 3704 3114, www.nfm.go.kr),
located on the Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds, offers an insight into the lifestyle
of ancient koreans, both common and royal. At the Tteok and Kitchen
Utensil Museum (164-2 Waryong-dong, Jongno-gu, tel 82 2 741 5447),
visitors can check out displays of old utensils and other rice cake-related
items on the second floor, then move downstairs for a relaxing tea and rice
cake break at Jilsiru Café.
Traditional korean houses (called hanoks) from the Joseon Dynasty
have been moved from their original locations and fully restored at Namsangol
Hanok Village (tel 82 2 2266 6923, http://visitseoul.net/en/see/namsan-hanok-village.jhtml)
in Namsan Park.
Shopping opportunities in Seoul range from high-end department stores like Shinsegae to street markets selling everything from knock-off Prada bags to microwaves. For a different kind of market experience, the Noryangjin Fish Market (13-8 Noryangjin-dong) has hundreds of stalls in a huge warehouse-like space selling fish of every description.
Seoul has its fair share of palaces, with the smallest being Deoksugung
(5-1 Jeong-dong, tel 82 2 771 9955, www.deoksugung.go.kr).
The complex claims to have some of the best examples of royal architecture of
the Chosun Dynasty (1392–1910). Gyeongbokgung Palace complex
(Jongno-gu Sejong-ro 1-1, tel 82 2 734 2458) is vast and the grounds are lovely,
but only a handful of the original buildings are left, most of which have been
For a night of truly unique high-energy entertainment, head for the Myeong
Dong Nanta Theatre (50-14 Myeong-dong 2-ga, Jung-gu, tel 82 2 739 8288,
www.nanta.co.kr). You don’t need to understand
Korean to enjoy the show — it is entirely nonverbal.
CHECKING IN WITH JOHN JACKSON
Vice President, Marketing and Sales, Korean Air
HAS THE SHAKY GLOBAL ECONOMY AFFECTED BUSINESS TRAVEL TO SOUTH KOREA? WHAT INDUSTRIES ARE GROWING?
The total market has slowed, but there’s still a strong market out there. We’ve actually seen an increase in business travel to Seoul and beyond. Our business travel market is up over 20 percent year on year.
Growth industries abound in South Korea right now. The biggest gainers are LCD-TV and other electronic parts. This will increase even more dramatically once the U.S./Korea free trade agreement is passed by the end of the year.
AS A MEMBER OF THE GLOBAL BUSINESS TRAVELER ASSOCIATION’S CORPORATE S0CIAL RESPONSIBILITY COMMITTEE, WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE COMING TRENDS IN BUSINESS TRAVEL PROGRAMS?
We’re seeing a lot more concern about the environmental impact of business travel and a lot more interest in environmentally friendly aircraft and fuels. Companies, including airlines, are paying more attention to the communities and markets they serve. This trend of environmental and social responsibility will continue to grow.
WHAT DOES SEOUL HAVE TO OFFER BUSINESS VISITORS?
Seoul is a city of surprises and offers business visitors unique experiences.
For example, korea is the most wired country in the world. This has created
a capital city that is thriving with energy from its youth and a sense of stability
from its tradition. The retail experience is, in a word, fantastic, with all
major designers showcasing their wares to a public that is eager to shop.
Info To Go
Incheon International Airport (ICN) is about 32 miles west of downtown
Just the Facts
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