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[SMA Insider] Great achievers in 2021 and new leaders to take SMA into 2022


Grand Hyatt Seoul, “set long-term goals without stopping ‘meetings’ despite the pandemic”

AJU Incentive, “difficult times, ‘local companies’ should come together to find a ‘win-win’ strategy”

Kim, Ryeul-hee, the new head of the PCO division, “do our best to serve as a ‘communication channel’ for members”

Choi, Min-ho, the new head of the Unique Venue division, “The key is to expand the market in connection with the MICE industry”


Rapid vaccination progress made us believe that we could finally transition to the “living with COVID-19”(gradual return to normal) era. What we are now seeing, however, is a replay of infection spikes caused by yet another variant. Amid this dire situation, there are hidden MICE stars who have carved out their own business domains by taking on new challenges to restart the engine of the “MICE train” that grounded to a halt otherwise. They are 318 members of the Seoul MICE Alliance (SMA). Marking the year-end, the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Seoul Tourism Organization presented awards to best performing SMA members. How did the selected members navigate through the pandemic and what would be their second thoughts? We asked these questions in our interview with the awardees. We also met with newly appointed division leaders who will invigorate and lead the organization going forward.


[Interview with awardees]

We give a bid round of applause to their unwavering passion. 

“Proactive actions by SMA…… remain focused on making Seoul as the perfect place for events.”

Mayor’s Commendation Award - Adrian Allen Crozier Slater, General Manager at Grand Hyatt Seoul 


- Congratulations to you for winning the award.

“First of all, I would like to extend my gratitude to Seoul Mayor Oh, Se-hoon and SMA officials. My thanks also go to the Grand Hyatt Seoul team, who have been doing their best to attract MICE events and continue to communicate with customers even in a difficult situation caused by the pandemic.”


-Grand Hyatt Seoul has been an active member of the SMA for over a decade since its accession to the Facilities division in 2011. It has served as the venue for numerous international conferences, exhibitions and buyer-seller meets, and familiarization trips, contributing to raising the status of Seoul as a representative city in the global MICE industry. You must have your ups and downs. Are there any memorable events or episodes that you can share with us?

“We have held numerous group events. One of the events that I am personally most proud of is the 2018 Hyatt Asia Pacific Leadership Summit. It was a meaningful event that brought together general managers of Hyatt Hotels in Asia. We received a great deal of support from the Seoul Tourism Organization as we wanted to host the event in a way to share the unique beauty and culture of Seoul and Korea with visiting general managers. In particular, for the welcome dinner held at the poolside, we installed about 80 drum grills to create an atmosphere of a Korean style pub, giving unique experience of having pork belly BBQ sitting around the grill in small groups. That dinner is often referred to as one of the memorable events by the attendees.”


- Despite the pandemic, you participated in various virtual MICE exhibitions held by foreign organizers and attracted many MICE events to be held in Seoul. You’ve also been very nimble in responding to changes and have proactively taken part in programs to revitalize business among SMA members. I assume this is a differentiator and strength of Grand Hyatt Seoul.

“Grand Hyatt Seoul is an attraction that best conveys the beauty of Seoul. Situated in Yongsan-gu, it has a locational advantage that is well known to everyone. But I believe our greatest strength lies in our teamwork. The sales team and the operation teamwork together as one team to attract and run a successful event, and we achieve customer satisfaction through close cross-functional dialogue. Even during the pandemic, we never stopped having meetings to discuss MICE opportunities and to set MICE-related goals. We set long-term goals and tried to attend as many exhibitions as possible. One of our differentiating strategies was to maintain relationships with overseas buyers and actively engage in promotional activities.”


- What role do you think the Alliance should play in preparing for the post-pandemic era, and what synergies should be pursued?

“Korea is already recognized as a powerhouse in epidemic control and prevention, and its national brand equity is at the highest level. Seoul will receive greater attention as a city safe enough to host events. SMA should take preemptive actions and remain focused on making Seoul the perfect place for events in the post-pandemic era. I hope SMA members will talk to each other more so that they will be able to identify their strengths and build strategic partnerships among members to create SMA-wide MICE services or bundled service offerings.

“The era of global competition, need to think about giving some advantages to ‘local’ companies”

Seoul Tourism Organization CEO’s Commendation Award Lee, Hyun-ae, CEO of AJU Incentive

- Congratulations to you for winning the award.

“I would like to thank the SMA for the award, but at the same time I feel sorry to receive the award when we have not achieved much over the past two years due to the pandemic.”


- AJU Incentive actively participated in SMA networking workshops and leaders’ roundtables organized by the Seoul Convention Bureau. You also participated in the MICE Team Building Contest, making contributions to finding ways to advertise Seoul's MICE infrastructure and develop sustainable MICE contents. This award was given in recognition of those contributions. You must understand the value of exchanges and cooperation among members better than anyone else.

“It has been difficult and depressing times, but participating in the SMA programs gave me some motivation and helped me learn what I was lacking. While undergoing difficult times together, we discovered our potential.”


- AJU Incentive has been an active member of the SMA for over a decade since its accession to the Attraction (Travel Agency) division in2011. It is an indispensable member of the Alliance that has always taken its part on Seoul’s journey toward becoming a representative city in the global MICE industry. Are there any memorable SMA events that you can share with us?

“There are many memorable events such as overseas business trips and venue visits, but receiving this award will be the most memorable as it made us a winner of three major SMA awards including “Door Prize” and “Table Winner”.


- What role do you think the Alliance should play in preparing for the post-pandemic era, and what synergies should be pursued?

“Although SMA members are competitors, we need to come up with a ‘win-win’ strategy. Korea's MICE industry has already entered the era of global competition. I hope that SMA members will be considerate of other members, giving some advantages to local companies.”

[Interview with new division leaders]

We are introducing new figures who will lead us into 2022.


“Post-pandemic era, how quickly you recognize and experience the new trend determines your competitiveness.

New head of the MICE Attraction (PCO) Division Kim, Ryul-hee, TOP PLANNERS


- Congratulations on your election. How are you going to lead the Attraction (PCO) division?

“At first, I didn’t think much of it, but as I realized that the term of office is three years, it makes me worry about how I am going to ‘survive’ for the next three years. I understand that appointing TOP PLANNERS as the new leader of the PCO division means that SMA members want us to play a role of a communication channel that connects seniors with juniors in the organization. I will do my best to fulfill my role.”


- The PCO industry is experiencing unprecedented hardships due to COVID-19. Many scheduled events have been postponed or canceled and even if they are proceeded as planned, organizers are demanding alternative ways to host events such as online or hybrid and new meeting solutions. This situation has persisted for the past two years. Where do you think the members of your division should focus?

“This is not a battle of winning or losing against someone. It is a battle of survival, a matter of whether we can be back in the game or not. I understand that our members are coping with the current situation in their own way. I will lead the division in such a way that we will support each other to leverage each other’s strengths in order to best respond to the current situation and endure difficulties and be geared up for the future together.”


- You made a pledge that you are going to promote effective networking and sharing of major policy and corporate trends that may impact the MICE industry. My interpretation is that you are emphasizing the need to discover and share issues through better networking and to rapidly respond to them. What kind of blueprint do you have in mind?

“For the past two years, we lacked networking opportunities among members due to COVID-19. We may not be able to match the pre-pandemic levels, but we will create as many networking opportunities as possible for the recovery of the MICE industry and to create more business opportunities.”


- What role do you think the Alliance can play in preparing for the post-pandemic era?

“(We are still under the grip of the virus) Given what we’ve been through during the pandemic, everyone must be aware that ‘information power’ is critical. It appears that the era has come where how quickly you recognize and experience the new trend will determine your competitiveness. As the Alliance brings together experts from various fields of MICE, we expect to be able to well prepare for the post-pandemic era with information power and various forms of cooperation at the same time.”



“Should come up with new ways to operate leveraging operating know-how”

New head of the MICE Unique Venue division Choi, Min-ho, Chief of Planning, Seoul Donhwamun Traditional Theater


- Congratulations on your election. How are you going to lead the Unique Venue division?

“I feel a grave responsibility as I came to head up the unique venue division at a time when the MICE industry is devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the time has come for us to get back on our feet. Public-private partnership between SMA members and related government agencies is needed more than ever. We need to come together and pull our wisdom together. I will do our best to act as a bridge among different members to help the MICE industry get back on the right track.”

-The industry (Unique Venue) is experiencing unprecedented hardships due to COVID-19. MICE players have little room to maneuver due to various restrictions such as ban on gatherings imposed by social distancing measures, prolonged for the past two years. Where do you think the members of your division should focus?

“The MICE industry received great attention as a promising industry for the future, and our footsteps have become a path. We need to overcome the crisis by coming up with new ways to operate our business leveraging operating know-how that we have accumulated so far. Above all, I believe we need to pull our wisdom together to navigate through the crisis.”

- You are urging the Alliance to develop agenda to revitalize the MICE industry and actively analyze and respond to the changing environment. What kind of agenda and counter measures are there for the Unique Venue division?

“Unique Venue owners operate their business in a way that suits the original purpose of the venue (performance hall, experiential space, food and beverage, etc.). They are also contemplating putting up their venue for events and meetings for brand and market expansion. Unlike other divisions active within the conventional boundary of the MICE industry, the key for Unique Venue is how best to stably expand the market in connection with the MICE industry and develop pilot cases.”

- What role can the Alliance play in preparing for the post-pandemic era following the “living with COVID-19” era?

“The Alliance itself gives peace of mind to members as it makes us feel that we are not alone and have companion. Ultimately, it will be important for each business to generate profits. First of all, we will work in solidarity to secure more policy and administrative support for the MICE industry. We will also make efforts to find ways to utilize Unique Venue for new business development.”

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