BI WORLDWIDE's Event Design Manager Heidi Williams and Project Executive Michael Pollard share their thoughts on why South Korea shouldn't be overlooked as an emerging small group incentive event destination!
As part of BI WORLDWIDE’s in:sight project and commitment to exploring new and emerging event destinations for our clients, Heidi and Michael were recently lucky enough to spend four nights and five days exploring South Korea with event partners on the ground, Channel K, passionately represented by industry specialist Susan Scales and her team at GMC. Here’s what Heidi and Michael had to say about South Korea…
The Seoul of the country
Our itinerary was jam-packed full of site visits and exciting South Korean activities, but we honestly felt we only scratched the surface of what the country has to offer for smaller incentive groups.
Seoul, the Capital of South Korea, felt like a blend of New York, London and Singapore with a preserved level of Asian hospitality that sees almost everything said or delivered with at least one bow. The city was very much a tale of harmonious contrast, ancient Palaces that preserve almost 5,000 years of history nestled amongst impressive skyscrapers set against a stunning mountainous backdrop and a culture of humble respect and sincerity. Did you know South Korea is the most wired country in the world? It has the fastest broadband speeds (they were using 5G back in 2017) and free public WiFi available almost everywhere - even walking along the city streets!
Sleeping in South Korea
It quickly became apparent that occupancy remains at a consistent average of around 70% throughout the year in the Capital – so planning early is important.
The international hotel product offering is impressive, with new additions opening all the time. We were hosted by the Hyatt Group and woke up to the sun rising over the most spectacular city skyline view each morning from the large and ultra-modern guestrooms of the Grand Hyatt Seoul.
A quick Google will throw up thousands of hotel options throughout the country, brands such as Hyatt, Four Seasons, InterContinental and Marriott to name a few in addition to national brands ‘Shilla’ and ‘Lotte’ that compete well on the world stage for five-star luxury and business class accommodation. Larger hotels enable a buy-out for events but can easily accommodate smaller incentive groups and most meetings. For even smaller groups, a high-end boutique hanok (house) can accommodate up to 10 guests in traditionally decorated rooms complete with ‘yo’, futon style bedding, sleeping ‘ondol’ (on the heated floor).
Beer with a side of BBQ Chicken
Korean food is rapidly gaining in popularity around the globe owing to the traditional fermentation preparation loading the delicacies with good bacteria that strengthens the body’s immune system. For guests to feel utterly embroiled within the Korean culture, a traditional dining experience sat cross-legged to a low table in a quaint Hanok is a must! This is not to say that guests must dine in this style throughout the duration of their trip – western cuisine is everywhere! Our hotel was home to no less than 12 restaurants and bars offering a variety of international cuisines.
The likes of Starbucks, Burger King, Pizza Hut and the golden arches are everywhere, which can provide a sense of familiarity in an unfamiliar place. Of course, we wouldn’t recommend those to a group, but you get the picture. We would, however, recommend the perfectly prepared and presented Korean royal court cuisine served at Korea House. This is a fantastic venue in the heart of the capital that is used to working with groups. Set in a traditional Korean building in the style of the Gyeongbok Palace, guests can enjoy a range of cultural experiences followed by a traditional dance performance. The sight of Korean dancers floating elegantly across the stage, portraying one of the five surviving stories of the Korean pansori is simply mesmerising.
A must-visit attraction for a group is the iconic Namsan Seoul Tower, located high above the city atop Namsan Mountain. Originally a broadcasting tower, the site has now become a beloved cultural space featuring an observatory and revolving high-end French restaurant, n.GRILL. The N-Tower is the second highest point in Seoul, behind the fifth tallest building in the world – Lotte World Tower, an almost Shard-like 123-floor skyscraper that is home to the world’s highest glass floor observatory. Whilst fast-track to the N-Tower observation deck isn’t yet available, a group with a dinner reservation (and healthy budget to cover it) at n.GRILL get to skip the queue to enjoy a spectacular 360° view of the city.
Seoul’s craft beer scene is quickly growing with many taprooms around the city catching on to the global trend. We visited one such establishment and enjoyed a typical evening of craft beer tasting and Korean BBQ chicken eating – heaven! We continued our newfound love-affair with Korean beer and chicken at one of the city’s Baseball stadiums on our final night – anything to prolong our final evening prior to departure.
It’s safe to say there’s no shortage of private event and dining venues. Whilst we certainly didn’t see them all (we would have needed another week!), our favourite was Some Sevit, a floating island in the middle of the Han River. The venue was unlike anything we had seen before and offered a range of spaces, both indoor and out, for a variety of group size. Every event planner’s dream!
As London tourists flock to Buckingham Palace to observe the Changing of the Guards, visitors to Seoul should not depart without having experienced the Changing of the Royal Guard ceremony at Gyeongbokgung Palace. This is a re-enactment from the Joseon Dynasty era, performed exactly as it used to be, with guards wearing royal uniforms, carrying traditional weapons and playing traditional instruments. The stark difference here is that you will see many visitors donning the colourful traditional attire – hanbok. This can easily be arranged for groups as part of the activity to enhance the overall experience.
Find your inner warrior!
The Korean martial art Taekwondo provides a great experiential activity for a private group session with the professionals at the World Taekwondo Headquarters! Branded and personalised uniforms – Dobok – can be provided for each guest as a fantastic take-away. In addition, the group can enjoy a mind-blowing performance by the Kukkiwon Taekwondo Demonstration Team before or after their private session, which would offer a great opportunity for groups to immerse themselves in the local culture. The high-octane show is sure to inspire even the most conservative of delegates into drawing on their inner warrior to chop through a plank of wood with their bare hand!
Across the tree-lined Hangnam River lies Gangnam, an area that inspired the world-famous song (which we are sure you will now not be able to get out of your head for at least the next ten minutes!). This cosmopolitan area is home to gleaming skyscrapers, designer brands and stylish restaurants. This is also where the right group might like to try their hand as a K-Pop star in one of the many studios. Psy lookalikes can even be arranged, either as a human signpost on a dine-around evening, or just for the sheer fun of it!