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Home >  DESTINATIONSCoast to mountain
Coast to mountain
Pyeongchang and Gangneung will be thrust into the international spotlight during the Winter Olympics in 2018. For many visitors to the Games, the experience may well begin in the Incheon city of Songdo. Martin Donovan reports

3 Oct 2016

One has been the gateway to Korea for centuries and is nurturing a sustainable hi-tech city with meetings and incentives a crucial component of its growth strategy. The other is destined to become a household name across the world as it hosts the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Songdo City, one of the Incheon’s three districts, hosts Korean and international hi-tech companies and features the country’s first park that channels seawater through 1.8km of waterways. Songdoi is also home to the Convensia, which is set to double the size of its ballroom and exhibition space by 2022.

Pyeongchang, in Gangwon province, will be hosting the mountain sports of the Winter Olympics in February 2018, while further east around the coastal city of Gangneung will be the ice sports, such as hockey and skating.

Gangwon will be served by the KTX high-speed rail network with a route that will connect Pyeongchang to Incheon, bringing visitors to the Games in around 70 minutes from Seoul. Meetings, incentives and events will also play a vital role in the post-Games’ legacy with Gangwon Convention & Visitors counting on new venues, accommodation and a range of activities to strengthen the province’s MICE portfolio.

Incheon has enjoyed an enduring appeal to overseas traders as a gateway to Korea. The island, on which the country’s main international airport is situated, boasts several firsts for the nation – from the first port of call in Korea for foreign missionaries and traders, to the first special economic zone, and the world’s first known Chinatown.

Now the district of Songdo is being positioned as the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ’s) city for hi-tech and sustainable development with a special appeal to conference groups. Songdo took shape as land began to be reclaimed from the Yellow Sea in 2003, in a scheme earmarked for completion in 2022.

Songdo’s portion of the IFEZ currently comprises 78 companies from 29 countries and regions including Hong Kong and Singapore, according to officials. Besides business, there is a growing selection of ideas planners can avail of once meetings are over. 

Guangzhou-based cosmetics company Aurance was impressed at the welcome and entertainment provided to 6,000 of its employees when they visited this year. So much so, that executives signed a deal with Incheon to host the company’s incentive group visits to the area until 2018.

The K-Wave – the new phenomena of South Korean popular culture that includes singers and primetime TV dramas, has fascinated many in China. The K-wave extends to the culture of coffee shops, which have become an institution in the Republic of Korea among students and professionals alike, and they have provided the setting for pivotal moments in soap opera dramas. Dal.komm Coffee in downtown Songdo was where scenes from the hit Descendants of the Sun were filmed and the trendy outlets are now in demand among overseas groups who have followed the series. 

G-Tower (left) – A superb starting point for groups to get their bearings on Songdo is an elevator ride to the 29th-level observation floor with a stop before or after a tour of a permanent exhibition. Interactive displays tell the story from the days of planning and land reclamation in 2003 to the advent of a city run along the principle of the Internet of Things, with traffic, security, environment and services rooted in cyber technology.

The East Asian offices of the United Nations are also in the tower, along with the headquarters of the Green Climate Fund, which operates under the UN, and to Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority.

The tower also overlooks a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course where the 2015 Presidents Cup was held. Restaurants with private dining rooms, complete with views, are also a stop-off point for smaller groups.

Gyeongwonjae Ambassador Hotel – On the edge of Songdo Central Park is a high-end hotel designed in the classical Hanok style. The 30-guest room Ambassador opened in 2015 and is managed in association with Accor. An adjacent conference hall can serve larger groups while the main hotel consists of traditional Korean courtyards. There are two villas with gardens either side, which are also available as unique venues for smaller groups. An overnight stay at one of the villas, the Royal Suite, comes with a US$1,000 starting tariff. The courtyard also provides the setting for tuho, the traditional Korean game of throwing arrows into a bowl, which can be incorporated into teambuilding or a meeting break.

Tri-Bowl Theatre – In contrast to Songo Central Park’s Hanok Village is a radical venture into modern architecture and arguably the area's most eye-catching landmark. The Tri-Bowl contains an arena-shaped concert hall and a multipurpose space for education and small-scale exhibitions that are more suited to arts, media or ecology.

There is also the chance to catch the hit musical comedy, Bipap short for Bibimbap, named after a staple of Korean cuisine, when at this venue when the production comes to Songdio. Bipap involves audience participation and plays on the absurdities of cooking contests, egotistical chefs and the enduring association of food with love and life.  

Songdo Convensia – The facility, which was built in 2009, hosted the Korea MICE Expo this year. Convensia is set to double the size of its ballroom to hold 2,000 people and expand the exhibition halls to accommodate 900 booths in a second phase of construction due to commence in 2017. This forms part of an overall plan by the authorities to make Incheon a “frontier MICE city” with international links, most notably to China and the Beijing leadership’s new Silk Road and Maritime Belt vision. Resorts and yachting marinas are also seen as part of a strategy to drive business and leisure tourism. 

One aspect of Convensia unlikely to change is the alpine-shaped roof, designed to resemble the ranges known as the “backbone” of Korea – the Taebok mountains. The venue has also staked its claim as the first full LEED-certified, environmentally friendly, convention centre in Asia. 

Seafaring excursions 
Muuido island (below) – This island has a conference and corporate retreat centre called the Tesco-Homeplus Academy (above). British retail giant Tesco partnered with overseas companies such as Korea’s Homeplus as it sought to expand its brand overseas. To train executives in Korea, and to familiarise employees with its brand culture and history, Tesco has an exhibition on the ground floor of the academy illustrating how the company was started in the East End of London after the First World War by Jack Cohen, a former soldier and tailor. 

The four-level complex features lecture rooms, conference hall, recreational facilities and around 70 guest rooms. When not used by future C-suite executives of Tesco, other groups of up to 250 can use the academy as a retreat with accommodation available at other Muiddo hotels or on Incheon. It’s also proving popular for its multicultural, international and ecological credentials. 

About US$10 million was invested in making the facility carbon-neutral with solar panels and other energy-saving technology. For catering the emphasis is on fair-trade products and meeting rooms themed on the countries and cities where Tesco has partner outlets.

Elsewhere on Muiddo, which can be reached by ferry from Incheon, is Hanagae Beach where horseback riding, four-wheel motorbikes are popular among organisers, along with a 413m zipline at Sea Sky World. More teambuilding experiences can be arranged with a fishing village experience Ponaen village.

West Sea Islands – For groups who crave the outdoors, a stay in Incheon is hardly complete without a visit to one or two of the other island communities – a favourite with hikers, cyclists, horse-riders and recently conference groups.

Fireworks Dinner Cruise – Another Songdo landmark is the 21.3km that leads to the airport and Yeongjongdo, the IFEZ’s resort area. The bridge, which opened in 2009, is an engineering marvel and at night LED lighting adds to the allure. The bridge is the focal point of firework displays at the weekend. Cruises depart from a boathouse at Songdo Central Park and the bridge can also be viewed from an observatory by the park called Ocean Scope.

Skiers, snowboarders – or those trying to learn – who visit Korea are likely to have more of a familiarity with names like Alpensia, Pyeongchang or Gangneung than conference planners. Gangwon Convention & Visitors Bureau, however, is out to prove that these names and the facilities and hotels built in the run-up to the 2018 Winter Olympics last way beyond the excitement of the action on snow and ice. 

The province’s bureau, which was set up in 2014, wants meetings, incentives and events to be a legacy of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. And Gangwon is aiming to do this with the same resolve that beat Munich in the bidding to host the Olympics and Paralympics.

To add their own version of an Olympic flame to the Gangwon’s meetings and events industry, the bureau offers special support for overseas business meetings and incentive travel groups of more than 100 participants. The support extends to trade organisations and academic or professional associations whose conferences and events meet the requirements of the UIA association body and conference organiser association ICCA.

Holiday Inn Resort Alpensia Pyeongchang
– The complex is shared between IHG sister hotels. The Intercontinental and the Holiday Inn, which has a convention centre that includes a second-level Grand Ballroom at 1,446 sqm and a 312-seat auditorium that is set to host the Winter Olympics media centre.

Intercontinental Alpensia (below) – The 218-guest room ski-resort hotel’s meeting facilities consist of meeting room and boardroom on first level. 

Seamarq – On Gangwon’s east coast is this newly built, sleekly designed 190-guest room hotel with beach views. Event spaces such as the Asantrium and the main ballroom, which can host 280 for banquets and 500 standing, benefit from natural light. The hotel also represents part of the Olympic legacy for Gangneung, where the ice events are to be held. 

Tags :
InterContinental   South Korea  

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