In 1392, at the start of the prolific Joseon Dynasty, Korea’s king ordered his royal court to find the perfect location in which to situate the country’s new capital. The royal delegation settled upon Seoul, determining it was the only place on the entire Korean peninsula with enough energy to house a royal kingdom.
Little did the royal advisors realize just how prophetic their declaration would be, and how long-lasting that excitement would endure.
“I love that today’s Seoul still exudes the energy discovered so long ago,” says Maureen O’Crowley, vice president of the Convention Bureau for the Seoul Tourism Organization.
As the capital city of South Korea, the world’s high-tech leader, Seoul is like a light switch permanently set to the on position.
The Republic of Korea—commonly called Korea or South Korea in the West—has been called an “IT Powerhouse” by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for the United Nations, but visitors don’t need a UN declaration to see just how connected the country is.
Korea has a legendary love of mobile technologies, and locals can be checking their smart devices in restaurants, shops and office buildings; even the subways are wired for the Internet.
Connectivity is easy when you have the fastest Internet speeds on the planet.
Put into perspective, consider Pando Networks’ recent “Global Internet Speed Study.” The average worldwide download speed clocks in at 580 kBps (kilobytes per second), with the U.S. ranking 26th for speeds that average around 611 kBps. Korea’s first-place ranking, however, blows away the competition, with its blazing 2,202 kBps.
When it comes to mobile devices, Korean download rates are so speedy that practically everyone in the country has a mobile connection.
In fact, Korea is the first nation in the world where wireless broadband subscriptions outnumber the nation’s population. Today, the nation boasts 100.6 broadband subscribers for every 100 residents, according to research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
While texting and e-mail remain the most popular use of smart devices, the blazing speeds have morphed mobile video watching into a national pastime.
Video as Art Form
When not glued to their mobile devices, Koreans can also watch video on the billboards that stream messaging from the top of skyscrapers throughout the country.
With this love of video, it should come as no surprise that Korea is home to the largest LED digital screen in the world. Called the “Digital Canvas,” the screen stands nearly 25 stories high and has some 42,000 LED lights embedded into the walls of the Seoul Square building.
The screen, which is largely used for public art installations, was utilized by Calvin Klein earlier this year when he presented a one-day fashion show, Infinite Loop, that served as a tribute to the world’s first video artist, Korea-born Nam June Paik.
The late Paik, who has become a Korean cultural icon, actually created his earliest video art in New York in the 1960s after he purchased the first-ever commercially available video camera.
Paik catapulted to fame in 1988 after creating the installation The More the Better for the Seoul Olympics. The birthday cake-shaped video tower featured 1,003 monitors broadcasting television stations from around the world. The installation now makes its home at the Seoul Museum of Contemporary Art.
Although Paik has since passed away, the art form he invented continues to get bigger, bolder and brighter, and it is rare to find a major expo or art show in Korea that doesn’t rely heavily on digital art.
keys to the future
As Koreans continue to merge tech and art, the country has seen a new wave of futuristic playrooms.
In 2008, electronics powerhouse Samsung opened the Samsung D’light showroom. Here, Samsung provides a sneak peek at not-yet-launched products and interactive future tech. A popular display is an LED wall that responds to touch with musical sounds.
Not to be left out, mobile phone giant SK Telecom opened the T’um museum showroom. Here, visitors can explore the science behind mobile technologies.
Upon entry, guests receive a not-yet commercially available T-Key mobile device that lets them create a T.Me avatar. The individual T.Me then appears in various virtual situations, including an on-screen fashion show as well as an integrated gaming environment. One of the more popular displays is test driving the “car of the future.” With no steering wheel, the car is controlled by communications devices, leaving the driver free to do other things.
In Incheon, Tomorrow City provides a guided 3-D tour, accompanied by a virtual guide, through cyber cities of the future. Visitors can try out a new look through virtual plastic surgery, or consult an electronic home health manager to receive a customized exercise plan.
The newest high-tech facility in Seoul is Digital Media City, a project being developed by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, with the mission of combining information technology with culture and the environment. Housed here is Korea’s largest IT showroom, DigitalPavilion, which was established by the National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA) to showcase the country’s latest technologies.
So what does Korea’s digital culture mean for meeting professionals?
“The abundance of high-tech and virtual reality artistry in Korea means the sky is the limit for international meeting planners,” says In-Shik Park, director of the Korea MICE Strategic Planning Team for the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). “Nowhere else in the world can meeting professionals create an event under a virtual chandelier—made completely of video screens—while guests are greeted by a service robot taking drink orders.”
“High-tech is so popular in Korea, it has become as much a part of the culture here as taekwondo or kimchi,” adds O’Crowley of the Seoul Tourism Organization.
The Korean Wave
Certainly, all of Korea’s culture is enjoying a surge in global popularity. The spread of Korean culture, known as the Korean Wave, or Hallyu, has become the basis of the KTO’s tourism marketing messaging.
Although Hallyu is synonymous with all Korean cultural assets, the concept circles back to Korea’s fascination with video, as Hallyu largely originated when global audiences began gobbling up Korean television dramas.
Hallyu marketing is so omnipresent, even Korea’s high-speed rail system (KTX) has jumped on the bandwagon, offering a daylong Korean Wave tour from Seoul.
Guests watch clips from dramas and enjoy K-Pop videos before making a stop at Nami Island, the filming site for Winter Sonata, one of the most beloved Korean dramas.
This year, as part of the Visit Korea Year campaign, the Visit Korea Committee has arranged a 10 percent discount for international visitors interested in taking this tour.
While Hallyu isn’t necessarily a concept that translates easily with Americans, it got a shot in the arm earlier this year when President Barack Obama visited South Korea for the Nuclear Security Summit and in a public speech declared, “It’s no wonder so many people around the world have caught the Korean Wave—Hallyu.”
The campaign must be working; Korea anticipates record-breaking visitation this year.
“This year, the number of international visitors to Korea is expected to reach more than 10 million for the first time in history,” says Ju-Min Hong, secretary general of the Visit Korea Committee.
growing for meetings
The increase in tourism is good news for meeting professionals, who can expect to see a lot of new infrastructure in the coming years.
“With the growth in international visitation, we are working to add an additional 20,000 [hotel] rooms by 2016,” says Sung-Real Lee, CEO of the Seoul Tourism Organization. “To meet that demand, we currently have 83 hotels in development in Seoul alone.”
While similar growth is anticipated throughout Korea, it is important to note that much of the nation’s meetings industry is largely in its infancy. While the country sports numerous major convention center facilities, none are older than 13 years.
Korea is serious about attracting meetings and conventions and has launched a series of incentives through its “2012 Korea Convention Year” for meeting professionals who confirm a booking by the end of the year.
Support depends on group size and room nights, but can include free gifts for delegates, monetary support for promotional materials, free tour programs and discounted airfare.
When it comes to determining the best location to hold a meeting in Korea, the KTO recommends starting with the regional KTO offices in the U.S.
“Meeting professionals can contact any of the convention and visitors bureaus around Korea to book a meeting or incentive. But with so many great options in Korea, we recommend they contact the local KNTO offices in the U.S. first, and we can help them decide what facility might be best for them,” says Oki Kang, executive director for the Los Angeles office of the KTO.
Freelance writer Monica Poling has definitely caught the Korean Wave. She has visited Korea several times and has become a big fan of Korean television dramas and her Samsung gadgets.