Meetings No 22
Constructive Journalism
Atti Soenarso: Journalism that offers a fuller picture of our world.
Cover Story
Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Gapminder
“We’re right, you’re wrong. It’s as simple as that.”
You have to have Stories to tell
The simple poetry of My Life as a Dog.
Long Tail Insights
The Power and Legacy of Conferences
Stories of serendipity, innovation and driving social change.
Smart Decision
Sustainable Meetings Vital Part of the New Strategy of Gothenburg
Gothenburg has a clear plan.
African Convention Bureaux Will Lead the Way
Agenda 2063 is a call to action.
IBTM World Announces Tech Watch Award shortlist
A shortlist of nine finalists has been announced.
Economic Impact
Incheon – Forward-thinking Metropolis
A South Korean city with a demand for business events.
You Are Not Safe
Predicting the birth of the Internet with 20/20 hindsight.
Global Index
Gaining Edge Launches Global Competitive Index
Bigger isn’t always more competitive.
IACC confirms 63 new member venues in Denmark
The new venues are part of Danske Konference Centre.
Isn’t It Time? The 13 Questions for Visionaries
Robin Sharma hopes to help you win.
Thought Leadership
A Futurist on the Future of Payments
Anders Sorman-Nilsson: It has to be frictionless.
Tips for Measuring ROI
Two ROI experts share their insights.
CWT Meetings and Events Forecast 2019
Data-driven insight and expert analysis to maximise your results.
Our Knowledge Bank Is Growing
Roger Kellerman: New knowledge flows to us.
business intelligence
Dubai to benefit
from one million+ hotel room nights amid major business event wins.
Suntec Singapore
becomes an Incon preferred supplier.
new job
CWT appoints Nick Vournakis
to head-up newly expanded Global Customer Group.
With new mantra
BestCities enter 20th Anniversary
as Madrid takes Global Forum baton.
new job
CWT Names Richard Thompson
as Vice President, Global Internal Communication & Culture.
Hogberga Gard is aiming for zero food waste
with a state of the art composting machine that makes everyone a winner.
business Intelligence
Cologne Convention Bureau
team realigned.
The IMEX Group announces new Talking Point – NATURE
powered by single largest research sponsorship to date from Marriott International.
business intelligence
AIM Group International
manages 3.000 event experiences in 2019.
business Intelligence
Seoul Enlarges the Hospitality Satisfaction
with the Second-tier Destinations.
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Incheon – Forward-thinking Metropolis

For more than four millennia the seaboard settlement of Incheon, on the western edge of the Korean peninsula, existed as a tranquil, sparsely populated, coastal haven. As the cloak of industrial progress steadily spread to envelop the entire globe, however, the late nineteenth century construction of an international port was to forever transform the fortunes of this region, triggering Incheon’s advent as one of the major gateways to Korea for global trade and industry.

Fast-forward to a little over a century later and to a population that mushroomed from a mere few thousand to more than three million in that time, making Incheon Korea’s third biggest city after Seoul and Busan. Today it stands as a mighty and forward-thinking metropolis at the south-western fringes of the capital Seoul. Just as the port once heralded the first major economic blossoming of this erstwhile pastoral land, initiatives currently under way at both the national government and the Incheon Tourism Organisation (ITO) level are planting the seeds for the city’s next industrial revolution of the 21st century kind.

“The ITO was newly launched on September 3rd, 2015 and has a vision to be ’the number one public enterprise leading Korea’s future tourism by creating a city that everyone wants to visit’,” says Nam-choon Park, Mayor of Incheon Metropolitan City. “The vision that we have is based on four main strategies: strengthening of Incheon tourism leadership, advancement of core business areas, enhancement of Incheon tourism competitiveness, and the establishment of future growth foundation.”

“The ITO is itself an acting organisation of the Incheon Metropolitan City MICE Industry Division, one hundred per cent funded by the city. It has four departments – Administration & Planning, Tourism Business, Marketing, and MICE – with altogether sixteen teams to take care of everything. Incheon City sets the MICE related policies or regulations, such as working on getting necessary approvals by the Korean government, and the ITO convention bureau does all of the field work, such as FAM tours, sales and roadshows.”

As a recently launched organisation with lofty ambitions, the ITO is blessed by a hugely solid business platform to build upon, as in 2003 Incheon became Korea’s first officially designated Free Economic Zone. Following significant deliberations at the National Assembly and the garnering of public consensus, an Act on Free Economic Zones was passed setting out clear objectives for a business environment for foreign investors and living conditions for expats. Incheon instantly became the test bed for these objectives and in the intervening period the city has taken major strides in attracting some of the foremost names of the global business community to take up a presence there, as well as generating significant economic returns in its formative years.

“To lay a solid foundation to build an economic hub nation in Northeast Asia, the Korean government formulated a plan to designate FEZs in advantageous locations to attract global leading companies and utilise them as momentum for a new economic launch. The Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) – consisting of Songdo, Yeongjong and Cheongna, each of which promotes investment in different areas and covers a total of 123.47 km², including Incheon International Airport and Incheon Port – was the first FEZ designated in Korea in August 2003 as part of the government’s key projects to realise this vision, backed up by material and spatial strategies as well as policy and environmental support.”

Songdo focuses its investment promotion on the cutting-edge knowledge and service industries, attracting companies such as Samsung Biologics, Celtrion, and Amkor, whilst Yeongjong fosters the multi-integrated tourism industry, with companies such as Paradise City, Inspire IR and a number of others. Cheongna develops international finance and distribution, having invited Shinsegae Complex Shopping Mall and Hana Financial Town.

“Statistics from 2015 have shown that whilst IFEZ accounts for a mere 11.6 per cent of the entire Incheon in terms of size, it accounts for 50 per cent of its total GDP, greatly contributing to the local economy,” says Mayor Nam-choon Park. “Moreover, IFEZ has laid the business foundation for the effect of investment promotion and company invitation to have a positive impact, not only on other parts of Incheon but also on the Korean economy as a whole.”

With an economic impact rippling outwards from the IFEZ to the wider Korean economy, the presence of profile multinationals and the economic pulse of Incheon has also generated its own ripple of demand for meetings and business events. Currently this is serviced by the city’s flagship Songdo Convensia convention centre, Asia’s first to receive LEED-NC certification. With Incheon targeting continued growth and along with that an anticipated heightened demand for more large-scale business events, ITO has further plans for Songdo to respond to this and to become the binding agent for the meeting needs of a leading global economic zone.

“Songdo Convensia started in 2008 and has grown along with the IFEZ ’Global Business Frontier’ vision, so the city plans to develop Songdo as a centre for international conferences focused on Songdo Convensia, positioning itself as a special city for international conferences. It aims to realise a global hub city for the MICE industry by discovering new MICE content and promoting a strategy to nurture the MICE industry in consideration of Incheon’s own features, and in doing so it would like to secure a comparative advantage and competitiveness against other cities. The core strategic business to realise this long-term goal is to build an ’International Conference Complex’, which will be deemed a Special Tourist Zone in accordance with the Tourism Promotion Act, offering benefits such as financial support, mitigation of restrictions on floor area ratio and exemption of traffic inducement fees all available.”

“In particular, Incheon has selected 24 tasks in six areas, including ’Global MICE Songdo, growing together with businesses’, installation and improvement of conference facilities, creation and development of tourism resources, invitation and hosting of international conferences, and the fostering of the international conference industry and exhibition business. In the long-term Incheon plans to link the International Conference Complex in Songdo with integrated resorts to be ready by 2022 and Yeongjong international city, in order to establish a world class MICE cluster. When complete this would be the ’Incheon MICE Belt’, connecting Yeongjong – the location of the international airport and the integrated resort – to Songdo, a home to convention facilities and shopping malls. Incheon expects that this would greatly contribute to the growth of the MICE industry in Korea by building the infrastructure for the city to emerge as the world’s leading MICE hub and establishing the complementary relationship between the two areas.”

Contributing to the growth of the meetings industry has also been the decision of major organisations to locate in Incheon, in particular the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Secretariat established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The GCF decision to base itself in Incheon is a reflection not only of the quality of the city’s infrastructure, but also of its strong commitment to sustainable development, which is a key factor in the city and the country’s future evolution.

“When inviting the GCF Secretariat to the Republic of Korea and to Incheon, it was expected to raise the national standing of Korea and strengthen its position as the world’s leader in global green growth, driving fiscal and financial industries and serving as the opportunity for Incheon to emerge as a global green city to spearhead global governance. Incheon’s historical image has been mostly related to that of an industrial zone, and efforts were made to burnish the city’s image and make Incheon a sustainable city for citizens to enjoy a pleasant living environment. Incheon Metropolitan City itself published the sustainability report in accordance with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporting guidelines in 2013 for the first time among all local governments in Korea. It has taken the lead in sustainable development, developing and managing 78 indices in the four areas of environment, society, economy and administration.”

Songdo international city, which successfully invited the GCF, features all of the strengths of a planned city, such as sufficient green spaces, parks, state-of-the-art technology and the Songdo Convensia with its remarkable construction techniques, and indeed the Songdo IBD has been cited as the Best Practice across Korea in terms of urban development and cityscape differentiation.

“The GCF Secretariat is the largest international organisation headquarters in Asia and a crucial finance mechanism for the international community. It holds its Board Meetings and Direct Access Workshops in Incheon and it recently promoted a ’Private Investment for Climate Conference’ to attract the private sector’s investment in the field of climate change, which Incheon plans to collaborate on in the future. The city also hosts the annual International Conference on Climate Finance and Industry to discuss the ways to enhance the regional capacity to address climate change and develop a business model utilising the GCF.”

“The GCF is therefore one of the great assets for Incheon’s MICE industry and alone it hosted 14 events in 2017, and is recently expanding this in collaboration with relevant institutions. Incheon has also invited other international events in connection with the GCF, the 48th Session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October 2018 and The UNFCCC Forum scheduled for April 2019 being two such cases. We are convinced that many other international events will also be held in Incheon under climate change related themes. It will foster Songdo as a hub for the green climate industry and green climate finance in a bid to brand the symbolic meaning of Incheon as a city of the GCF, which will lead to further sustainable development.”

Complementing the city’s sustainable credentials and commitments are equally impressive smart city attributes, of both the hard and soft variety, which strongly equip Incheon to capture the attention of not only enterprises keen on establishing a commercial base there, but also meeting planners eager to become acquainted with new destinations offering world class facilities and supporting infrastructure, and that also offer a formidable economic environment for cultivating new business connections.

“IFEZ Smart City complies with the international standards technologically, but what makes it smarter than Seoul, Tokyo or Singapore is that, firstly, the entire IFEZ was built based on broadband network from the development phase; secondly, that it is operated by a single centre with the integration of technologies existing in the three separate districts; and thirdly, that it offers smart services for transport, crime prevention and environment, all for the safety and convenience of residents. IFEZ has the organisation exclusively for Smart City business with its vision of ’Global Leading Smart City, IFEZ’ and it plans to be the world’s leading smart city based on the 4th industrial revolution technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI).”

“Incheon has also continued its effort to create a more English-speaking environment to expand the English-speaking population and it has also made administrative efforts to ensure English is spoken more commonly by refurbishing English signage and operating English services for foreign expats. IFEZ has seen the number of foreign expats increase by 72 per cent on average for the past 15 years, during which time K-12 international schools opened in Songdo along with five foreign universities in the Incheon Global Campus as part of Incheon’s effort to nurture excellent global human resources through quality education in English. In addition to this, fifteen UN bodies and international organisations based in IFEZ, as well as foreign universities, continuously host international conferences on their research areas.”

As the nascent ITO continues to evolve and to launch Incheon towards its stated aim of becoming the world’s foremost economic zone, there are a number of further attributes the city has at its disposal, but also a number of challenges that it faces along the way, including its close proximity to the capital Seoul.

“Incheon and the IFEZ provides an excellent educational environment, being home to world renowned universities such as George Mason University and Utah University, as well as the Cheongna Darlton School and the Chadwick International School. Furthermore, IFEZ operates language services at the IFEZ Global Centre and provides a safe medical environment in a bid to improve the living conditions of expats. In addition, IFEZ offers various investment incentives to locate businesses in Incheon, including tax reduction, support for settlement, and other subsidies as part of the efforts to improve the living environment.”

“However, as a relative latecomer compared to Singapore or Hong Kong, IFEZ does have challenges such as a relatively low awareness, the denuclearisation issue on the Korean peninsula, and change in the ecosystem of the global economy, although the business environment around Incheon is very favourable. To address this, we need to develop a new form of vision and model to showcase Incheon’s exclusive features and advantages, with one of the ideas being to combine Korea’s outstanding IT prowess to the IFEZ model. We also need to find ways to further capitalise on our geopolitical advantage as a gateway to regions full of development potential, such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), East Russia and Mongolia. Peaceful settlement between the two Koreas and declaration of the end of the war would also be a boon for IFEZ business.”

“With Seoul, although the two cities are physically close, each one has invited and hosted events more suitable for the respective fields, size, characteristics and needs. They have grown as rivals at times, but also as benchmark partners. As competition between countries and cities is getting more fierce in the MICE industry, both Seoul and Incheon fully agree on the need to establish a cooperation system to utilise the strengths of each city while complementing each other’s weaknesses. Incheon will accordingly establish cooperative ties with the surrounding cities such as Seoul and Gyeonggi-do, and jointly utilise convention, natural, and human resources with them in order to create a synergy effect for the MICE industry.”

Harnessing these challenges alongside channelling their ambitions for the future of Incheon has required the ITO to take a structured and strategic approach. For this they are working on a vision that refines their targets for the coming years, a vision that puts meetings and business events clearly at the core of growth.

“Incheon is currently implementing Vision 2030 to focus more on substance than size and to enhance its competitiveness,” concludes Mayor Nam-choon Park. “The vision envisions IFEZ as a Global Economic Platform, a Hub of Service Industry, a Hub of Convergence Industry, and a Compact and Smart City. To do so it is promoting seven strategies, including fostering an economic region for airport and seaport, inviting excellent R&D centres, transforming into a city of marine leisure tourism, creating a MICE integrated resort cluster for Northeast Asia, building the key base for the 4th industrial revolution, nurturing start-ups and venture companies, and exporting the smart city model.”

Photo: Incheon CB