The melting pot

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Published: November 8, 2015 12:03:48 AM

Rich cultural diversity and seamless infrastructural connectivity, coupled with modern conferencing facilities, have enhanced Korea’s appeal as an ideal meeting destination for Indian corporates

THE SEOUL Incheon International Airport is reflective of modern Korea—it has a golf course, spa, private sleeping rooms, an ice skating rink, a casino, indoor gardens and the Museum of Korean Culture. An amalgam of traditional and contemporary, Korea, which incidentally was referred to as the ‘Lamp of the East’ by Rabindranath Tagore, is drawing interest as an emerging hotspot for MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) business from Indian corporates across sectors like pharma, healthcare, banking and insurance.

Floating venues

Seoul, the melting pot of Korean culture, has some unique meeting facilities that are nestled along the Hangang, or Han River, which meanders through the city. With 27 bridges spanning the river and a 40-km cycling track hugging it, Hangang offers many picturesque options for conferencing. Located near the southernmost part of Banpo Bridge is the nation’s first-ever artificial island, Some Sevit (meaning Three Shining Islands). The Floating Island comprises three flower-themed islets with different functional areas and is interconnected by walkways.

The largest of the islands, Gavit, houses the Floating Island Convention Centre (FIC), a branch of the CNN Café, an Italian eatery and Vista Pub with views of the Hangang River. On the roof of the island is an observation deck. FIC’s dome-style main banquet hall is able to accommodate up to 500 persons and features a panorama video display, which is projected on to the dome-shaped ceiling, as well as a car elevator for motor shows. The best part is that the FIC has Indian cuisine options on the menu. Dining service can also be provided by the medieval-inspired European restaurant, Villa de Noche, which offers a private balcony for more intimate social events such as small parties or even pre- or post-event gatherings.

The second-largest island, Chavit, is a round building with a first-floor observation deck and Chavit Cuisine, a smartly designed high-end buffet restaurant, where you can enjoy over 160 dishes prepared right in front of you while taking in the views.

The last of the islands, Solvit, expected to open soon, will feature retail shops and food and beverage facilities. Also included in the complex is Yevit, a media art gallery with a giant LED screen and floating stage and an open-air amphitheatre.

Around the Floating Island are LED lights that feature a night view under the theme of ‘Gleaming Light in the Mist’ giving the three islets a luminous look as they change colours. There is also the Rainbow Fountain, the world’s longest fountain. Every evening, the double-decker Banpo bridge, covered with 10,000 LED lights, is transformed into a spectacular light show venue. Appearances in the upcoming Hollywood blockbuster, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the US reality programme, America’s Next Top Model, have drawn considerable public attention on Some Sevit, which has become Seoul’s newest culture and leisure hotspot.

Top agenda

For more ‘elevated’ meetings, Mount Namsan, which can be seen from all over the city, has the N Tower (236 m), which houses an observatory for night views of the city. The letter ‘N’ probably stands for the tower’s ‘new’ look—new lighting systems were installed in 2005 and it changed the tower’s overall colour scheme. This means that event managers can now decorate the tower for their event in the colours of their choice. Hancook, the Korean restaurant in the N Tower, offers a unique location for networking dinners, offering both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. Mount Namsan is accessible both by road and cable car.

An important business district around Teheranno, or Tehran Street, is where the COEX Convention & Exhibition Center-Korean World Trade Center complex is located. Seoul’s elite new neighbourhood, Gangnam District is a popular shopping and entertainment hub. Visiting Indians would be able to connect to the 2012 K-pop song Gangnam Style by Korean entertainer Psy, who was inspired by this district. The song and video’s popularity increased international awareness of the district. Several subway stations in Gangnam and nearby areas were also used as filming locations for the 2012 Hollywood film The Bourne Legacy.

For an authentic Korean experience, Samcheonggak is a traditional cultural centre comprising five outbuildings and the main building of Ilhwadang. The hanok (traditional Korean house) buildings are used as performance venues and banquets and can be used for seminars and workshops. Samcheonggak also offers traditional culture experience programmes, including Korean fine dining and a traditional Korean costume experience. Most hanoks serve hanjeongsik, or Korean table d’hote, the royal court cuisine.

En route the Freedom Highway—which leads to the Imjin River Demilitarised Zone and is so called because South Koreans believe that one day when North Korea is liberated, the freed populace will use it to crossover—to the Suwon Archery range for MICE activities, a brief stopover at the Haengjusanseong Mountain Fortress in Goyang is a must.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the fortress was the site of a major Korean victory against the Japanese invasion 400 years ago. Women also participated in the dramatic battle, carrying stones in their aprons (haengju in Korean).

Inside the fortress is Chungjangsa, a shrine paying tribute to General Gwon Yul, who won the battle.

At Yeonmudae (Dongjangdae) in Suwon, MICE groups can experience ‘gukgung’, Korea’s traditional form of archery, different from regular archery because the thumb is used to pull the string. A basic lesson is given in gukgung before visitors try shooting on their own.

Shopping and entertainment

Seoul’s most cosmopolitan nightlife spots, Itaewon’s claim to fame is that US troops stationed at nearby Garrison Yongsan during the Korean War used it as an R&R playground. Visitors should visit the Itaewon Antique Furniture Street, which was formed in the 1960s when US soldiers stationed in Yongsan sold their furniture before returning to their country. Over the years, the area has grown into a major shopping street. For more premium shopping, there is the Myeong-dong area, which is home to the Lotte and Shinsegae department stores.

The city also has many royal palaces of which the Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first built by the Joseon dynasty—it is even older than the Forbidden City Palace in Beijing. Though now there is no royal family living inside, the palace conducts the Changing of the Royal Guards Ceremony three times a day in front of the main gate and MICE organisers should include this in the itinerary, not just for its visual appeal, but simply for a walk back into the past.

For a more diverse experience of Korea’s performing arts, non-verbal performances like the world famous percussion show, Nanta, is a great way of relaxing after a hard day of conferencing, which can be followed by a ferry cruise on the Han river with live shows and an international buffet. There are eight different docks from which to board, each with a different theme. Jeju Island, a short flight away from Gimpo Domestic Airport in Seoul, is another interesting MICE destination. Very popular among international tourists, especially because a visa is not required, Jeju offers many accommodation and conferencing facilities and tourist attractions like Love Land and the UNESCO World Heritage Site—Seonsang Ilchulbong Peak or Sunrise Peak. No visit to Jeju is complete without a hike up this peak, which was formed by volcanic eruptions a thousand years ago. For that unique conferencing venue, there are super-luxury yachts, which offer fine dining facilities clubbed with activities like fishing, dolphin spotting, etc. For some high drama, MICE organisers can also include a submarine tour operated by Seogwipo Submarine on board Jiah with a capacity of 67 passengers.

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