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PyeongChang: Are the Games Over Before They’ve Begun?


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As the host country for the 2018 Winter Olympics, the eyes of the world are on South Korea. International interest in the run-up to the event, however, appears to be less focused on the sporting competition and more on mounting political tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Threats from North Korea regarding its ongoing nuclear testing and missile development have undoubtedly cast a shadow over the Games. While fears over the situation have tempered slightly with North and South Korea holding “peace” meetings last month, and the intention for both countries to march under one unified flag, the impact on future business events has already been felt. In December, the International Federation of Dental Hygienists announced the relocation of its flagship meeting, due to take place in 2019, from Seoul to Brisbane, Australia, citing ongoing political challenges as the reason for the change in destination.

Meeting planners appear divided about the impact of the political situation and any future potential risks.

“The Korean peninsula is now under threat of war and it is true that the risks have increased recently with North Korea’s nuclear development,” said Peter Lee, Ph.D., former MCI Korea director, who is currently managing director at Goyang Convention & Visitors Bureau in South Korea. “But South Korea is also a safe country with the best security in the world. Inter-Korean dialogue has recently begun on the basis of the Pyeongchang Olympics, and we hope such dialogue will help [with] peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

He added that stakeholders within Korea’s meetings industry need to make an effort to promote South Korea as a safe meeting destination to organisers across the world.

Darren Kerr, founding partner at Factor168, is more cautious. He said the ongoing geopolitics is always troubling and has increasingly become more so over the past year.

“If you’ve ever visited Seoul, you’ll quickly realise how very alarmingly close it is placed to the demilitarised zone [the heavily armed border separating north from south] and the immediate clear and present danger this poses,” he said. “Complement this with the current President of the Free World’s approach to this state of affairs, and it’s all rather unnerving, to say the least.”

Kerr believes it’s an ongoing challenge to effectively allay concerns. If the destination of your meeting is not set in stone for organisational and or commercial reasons, he would recommend canvassing other more suitable destinations with a less-troubled operational outlook.

Dan Roelofs, owner of KR Travel DMC, has a different perspective. Roelofs has been working on events associated with the Games, sourcing venues, training facilities, and accommodations for various sporting teams and the media. He said a potentially low turnout of international visitors — tickets sales have reportedly been slow — could be attributed to poor promotion rather than nuclear threats.

“Both parties involved are talking to each other and there is cooperation around joint teams,” Roelofs said, “so this will have a positive effect on the Games.”

While it remains to be seen how the geopolitical landscape will play out, and whether events in the longer-term will be affected, it’s business as usual for events scheduled now and in the very near future. Seoul welcomed one of its biggest incentive groups last month, when 1,200 participants from Malaysia marketing company Sahajida Hai-O Sdn. Bhd visited for a week. In March, the city will host 1,500 participants from the Indonesian branch of global kitchen container business Tupperware.

“For many years, South Korea has been a popular destination for corporate meetings and events, with Seoul in particular providing the perfect blend between a traditional and modern city,” said Luther Low, regional operations & business process director, Asia Pacific at CWT Meetings & Events. “The 2018 Winter Olympics will certainly add to this appeal.”

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