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Singapore holds much potential for Korea's MICE offerings
SINGAPORE is a small country, but it punches above its weight regionally with many multinational companies locating here and as a result, this brings with it many opportunities for the MICE (meetings, incentive travel, conventions and exhibitions) market.
"There are still many opportunities to explore for Singapore market for Asia-Pacific meetings and incentive groups to Korea," said Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) director Yoon Seung Hwan.
He pointed to the fact that the government's pro-business environment has attracted investments from more than 7,000 multinational companies, of which about 4,000 have located their regional headquarters in Singapore.
In addition, more than 140 international non-profit organisations (INPOs) including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The World Bank Group, Tax Free World Association (TFWA), International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers (IFI), and International Air Transport Association (Iata), are based in Singapore.
"MICE tourism is big business; it is viewed as one of the key drivers for economic growth, regional cooperation and intellectual development," said Mr Yoon.
However he acknowledged that it is a competitive market, with increasing competition for MICE business and competing cities quickly catching up as global business hubs.
"Every country has its own niche and rich traditional and cultural offerings that appeal to their own audiences. For Korea, we will focus our MICE marketing strategies on high potential markets like Singapore, strengthen its appeal and entrench its position as a preferred business and MICE destination by deepening trade partnerships and sharpening business development efforts to drive quality leads and conversions," said Mr Yoon.
He noted that the Singapore market is a sophisticated one with its own unique characteristics. "By and large, Singaporeans are very well-travelled. They are very enthusiastic about culinary and hands-on experiences," he said.
For example, Mr Yoon said, KTO has had an incentive group in late autumn last year that planned its annual incentive trip around a gastronomic-themed programme, that fully indulged all the senses and showcased the whole range of food attractions Korea has to offer.
They first feasted on fresh sea food at the Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan, and then went on to humble home-cooked meals at the granny's restaurants in a local town along Yeongdeok County in North Gyeongsang Province, which is famous for its snow crabs.
Moving upstream along the food chain, the group then continued with a visit to one of the cabbage fields where they had a BBQ dinner with grade A+ Korean beef at the Korean beef town in Pyeongchang County in Gangwon Province. There, they also got to try their hand at making their own Makguksu (buckwheat noodles) at the Chuncheon Makguksu Museum.
Other interesting activities included harvesting sweet potatoes at another farm and learning how organic bean curd is made at Seoil Farm in Anseong, before they ended their last night in Seoul on a high note with the quintessential Korean foodie experience of chimak (fried chicken and beer) dinner.
Meanwhile another group chose to go local for their tour, Mr Yoon said. Instead of the usual Western setting for their gala dinner, they got all their group members to dress up in Korean traditional hanbok for the event held at Samcheonggak, a unique traditional venue.
They were served the sweet Korean alcoholic beverage makgeolli in traditional makgeolli cups for the pre-event cocktail, and they partied the night away with a Korean fusion band performance and 10-course hanjeonsik (Korean set) dinner.
"Korea has many great offerings, from seasonal foods, fruits and catches to crafts and industrial experiences. Organisers can 'mix and match' the way they prefer for their group members, something that enriches their travelling experiences to Korea," said Mr Yoon.
"It is time to break away from the jagged programmes and try new ones and visit new places. We will constantly share and update the market on new tourism products and new places to explore through social media and traditional media platforms," he added.
He suggested among new things to try would be to incorporate one of the many seasonal festivals in Korea into tours; for example, Boseong Green Tea Festival and Damyang Bamboo Festival in spring, Bukcheon Cosmos and Buckwheat Festival in early autumn, or Ice-Fishing Festival in winter.
"The festivals will have an array of activities on-site throughout, from hands-on experiences, food stalls and games, to performances. It will definitely be a great way to experience Korea from another prospective," he said.
Mr Yoon knows Singapore is a challenging market. "Singaporeans are very well-travelled and they have experienced many unique offerings when they travel. It is challenging to promote something unique and interesting to us but nothing 'special' to the Singaporeans," he said.
He added that while Singapore consumers are price sensitive, they are willing to pay a premium if they feel the products or experiences are worth it. "We have to explain to them why something costs more than another option, why the cost is justifiable," Mr Yoon explained.
Mr Yoon said: "We aim to elevate the position of Korea as one of the best MICE destinations in the region. We have many exciting and unique programmes and activities available throughout the year, for all ages and of different interests."