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[Special Interview] Interview with newly-appointed International Tourism & MICE Division Executive Director of STO, Ham Kyung-Joon Vows to Make Seoul a Global Top 5 Tourism City


Seoul into world’s top five tourism hubs

Grounded expertise with 34 years at KTO

Extensive background in tourism and MICE industries

Sights set on 30M international Seoul tourists post-pandemic”

STO appointed Executive Director Ham Kyung-Joon, the former CEO of the Ulsan Tourism Organization, to the position of Executive Director of the International Tourism & MICE Division in June. He developed extensive hands-on experience and expertise in the tourism and MICE sectors from working in the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). He played a key role in laying the foundation of the industries in fast-growing cities as well by attracting government-sponsored projects. Such contribution is expected to help the city reach even greater heights as a global MICE hub.


Executive Director Ham remarked, I have many plans to enable Seoul, one of the world’s top MICE cities, to take its spot at the forefront as a global trendsetter and have particular interest in putting groundbreaking strategies and effective policies into practice to help the organization achieve its vision of reaching 30 million tourists and becoming one of the top five tourist cities.”


Q. Your appointment was just in time for the recovery of the tourism and MICE industries post-pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made the global MICE sector go through increased uncertainty and a transformation of the business environment. Labor shortages compromised the overall ecosystem of the whole industry. Considering that the timing of my appointment is aligned with the recovery of tourism and MICE sectors, as well as the global competition becoming increasingly fiercer in the post-pandemic times, I will spare no effort to support hosting of large-scale and successful MICE events. The plan is to combine new information technology with MICE, enhancing the sector’s competitive edge at a global level, and boosting international-scale public-private cooperation for the MICE industry. With this direction I set for myself, I will be devoted to the continued growth of the Seoul's MICE sector, the second-largest MICE hub in the world. I think it will enable us to reach our goal of 30 million Seoul tourists from across the world.”

Q. What is your roadmap for promoting the tourism and MICE industries?

Experts project the global tourism and MICE industries to recover to its pre-pandemic scale in 2024. That means we need a strategy that will help Seoul attract global demand for tourism and MICE by proactively preparing for the changing market dynamics. STO will support MICE businesses in showcasing the appeal of Seoul as a tourism and MICE hub to help achieve substantial growth while engaging in active marketing to drive business success. The organization will, of course, sponsor recovery of inbound tourism and MICE infrastructure, as well as the building of a sustainable industry ecosystem.


Q. What were be some of your major achievements as CEO of UTO and Head of KTO overseas branches?

“In my 34 years at the Korea Tourism Organization, I worked in four different locations, including Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, big tourism hubs in Asia. While working as the Head of Tourism Companies Support Department, I was part of a project that selects tourism startups, offering them some financial support for furthering their businesses. The scope of the project later expanded to include more financial assistance, such as accelerating, TIPS, and innovation vouchers. I also helped persuade relevant public agencies to invest more in tourism startups and ultimately improve systems for supporting tourism startups and businesses. As the inaugural CEO of the UTO, I was mostly focused on laying the foundation for the growth of Ulsan’s tourism and MICE sectors. By harnessing the advantages of the city’s local economy and hidden tourism gems, I helped promote government-sponsored projects, such as the Smart Tourism City Creation and Local Tourism Companies Support Center Establishment and Operations initiatves to build the city’s brand image as a tour destination and form the base of Ulsan’s tourism industry. UECO was also opened to propel the growth of Ulsan’s MICE industry.”


Q. Any interesting career story that you would like to share?

“In 2006, I was working in Kuala Lumpur when the 2006 Germany World Cup took place. I wanted to give people strong motivation to visit Korea, so I offered a special tour package to Malaysian people under the slogan of “Germany World Cup in Korea.” For the product I worked with major local travel agencies and Korean inbound agencies on the schedule and program. We aligned concepts and messages we wanted to showcase on the agency ads, Malaysian local newspapers, TV commercials, and exhibition booth designs. We set a model example of IMC strategy by offering “Be the Reds” t-shirts as a gift to those signing up for the tour package. The original and creative marketing and promotion drew the attention of Malaysian tourism businesses and were also covered by media, including Korean TV programs. The innovative achievement was highly recognized as one of great accomplishments of the organization’s global marketing for the year.”


Q. The Seoul MICE Joint Declaration was announced at the Seoul MICE Business Day event on July 7. What impact do you expect the declaration will have on the MICE industry both home and abroad?

“The Seoul MICE Joint Declaration is the vision for the future, with a purpose of promoting recovery and substantial growth of the MICE industry of Seoul that had to go through many headwinds during the pandemic. The declaration holds great significance in that it’s a public-private joint declaration released by SMA, the largest MICE partnership of the City of Seoul, STO, and MICE businesses. It’s even more meaningful as it was first suggested by private companies. The declaration is projected to build a strong network of collaboration between SMA members and overhaul the MICE sector of Seoul to be more sustainable and inclusive. Co-marketing with the SMA will bring about substantial growth of the industry as a whole.”


Q. Any future plans?

“My main focus is on creating an environment that will foster sustainable and inclusive growth of the MICE industry of Seoul. The sector has been struggling a lot with labor shortage because of the pandemic, and even in the current post-pandemic times, the level of employment is not the same as the pre-pandemic levels, which is why businesses are having a hard time finding talented young individuals. I will support the fostering of comprehensive talent with MICE-focused educational background and hands-on work experience while helping them find a company that best suits them. Essentially, the hope is that it can create new jobs and attract talented people to the industry. I will increase the level of assistance for local sales and the industry as a whole to make sure that Seoul takes a competitive advantage in the global MICE arena. At the same time, I will work on joint promotion events with the HCA and ICCA, global MICE governance groups, to reinforce the network connecting major global MICE organizations and promote Seoul as one of the best destinations for hosting business events.”


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