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South Korea: rapid response to COVID-19 pandemic reaps dividends

The response of South Korea to the COVID 19 virus has been admired on the international stage, with many noting, perhaps belatedly, of the measures taken by the country to protect its citizens.

The country had a low number of confirmed cases and deaths. There were 10,613 confirmed cases and 229 confirmed deaths in a population of more than 50 million.

In the UK, with a population of 65 million, 133,495 people tested positive on 21 April, according to the UK department of health, and 18,100 have died due to coronavirus. The actual number of cases and mortality rates may be higher, as the UK figures do not include those who have died in care homes.

In South Korea, President Moon was testing up to 15,000 people per day. The UK have tested a total number of 411,000 people for coronavirus, according to the BBC.

So what measures did South Korea take – not only for the wellbeing of its people, but also for the events industry to recover and open for business much earlier than in other countries?

Prevention has been key in containing the virus in Korea, and both the government and local CVBs have made this a priority in their COVID‐19 support for the meetings and incentive market.

“Korea has demonstrated that it was not only prepared, we also took the lead to reduce the impact on its citizens, and share important information with the world, during the COVID-19 outbreak. KTO and the KMB have worked hard to support the MICE industry, venues quickly took protective measures for delegates and organisers alike with enhanced sanitisation procedures, medical staff and detection equipment on hand at all times.” Sangmin Lee, director of the London office of the Korea Tourism Organisation said.

“As the world has had to hit pause, we have, as a national industry, joined forces to think about how we can support visitors and the MICE industry when we have chance to move again, and worked as a nation to provide new initiatives, that we have based on popular past requests, thus offering more reasons to come to Korea. We have new developments: from the extension of the largest venue KINTEX, to new hotels and MICE complexes from Busan to Suwon ready and waiting, with the knowledge Korea can offer a safe and prepared destination in readiness for future event planning.”

The Korea MICE Bureau has introduced financial support to enhance their existing programmes for event planners.

Seoul has reduced the initial number of pax to qualify for support plus items such as robot rentals for the remainder of the year, while Busan is offering funds to help with cancellation fees as well as support for digital/virtual meetings, and ‘hygiene packs’ for delegates.

Financial subsidies

The KTO offered an additional subsidy of 10 million won (£6.5m) for medium‐sized groups (500 to 1000 foreign delegates). For large groups (1,000 to 2,000 foreign delegates), an additional subsidy of 25 million won (£16.4m) and 40 million won (£26m) for extra‐large groups (over 2,000 foreign delegates).

In Busan, support of up to 1.5 million won was offered for groups that have had to cancel their events due to the COVID‐19 outbreak. The support applies to penalty fees for cancellation as well as service fees for prepaid insurance fees.

Enticements to the city

Even after the lockdown is over, many delegates and event planners may feel reluctant to travel overseas. Adding additional measures so that visitors feel safe is an important factor.

If an event is hosted in Busan, the city will provide up to 2 million won (£1.3m) for safety equipment relating to COVID‐19, such as face masks and hand sanitiser.

Embracing the digital

South Korea is noted for being at the forefront of technology and one of the best-connected countries in the world, according to a Statista survey. In 2018, the internet penetration rate was at around 96 per cent while the internet usage rate was at 91.6 per cent.

Getting into gear with the wired world, Busan city is providing support for companies implementing new conference technology, such as a VR conference, with up to 5 million won each for a total of 50 million won (£33m).

In Jeju, there is a special COVID‐19 support program for international conventions, incentive tours and corporate meetings held here. The program provides partial support for the cost of holding events, such as rental fees, dinner fees and souvenirs. The special COVID‐19 support will be available until June 2020, but the dates may change depending on the situation.

Seoul recently delivered a virtual meeting with delegates as avatars, adding more interest to the standard Zoom meeting.