Conference & Meetings World Issue 102 - Page 31

South Korea Unity through business COULD THE MEETINGS INDUSTRY BE THE CATALYST FOR UNIFICATION BETWEEN NORTH AND SOUTH KOREA? CMW’S STUART WOOD INVESTIGATES hey might be the most closely guarded meeting rooms in the world. In the de-militarised zone between North and South Korea, there sit two bright blue buildings, in a tiny chunk of land walled off by trees. This is Panmunjom or Truce Village, and it straddles the de facto border of the two countries, demarcated by a line in the sand. In April 2018, Panmunjom was the site of an inter-Korean summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. In June of this year, US President Donald Trump also visited the site for an impromptu meeting with the North Korean leader, taking several steps into North Korean territory and shaking hands with Chairman Kim. Understandably, access to Panmunjom is highly limited. Just two weeks before Trump’s visit, CMW is in South Korea for a tour of the country’s MICE and “ A late- night karaoke session, ideally with some chimek (fried chicken and beer) is an essential Seoul experience for visitors.” Above: Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju hospitality venues, and our trip to the DMZ is scheduled to take us to Panmunjom. But with just a day’s notice, our tour guide breaks the news that our visit has been declined, and we won’t be able to take a step into the most secretive nation on the planet. Tensions, it seems, are still high. going forwards.” It’s a sentiment which is shared by Han Shinja, Vice-Chair of the Korea MICE Association. Han was part of the team which helped to organise the April 2018 inter-Korean summit, and believes MICE can be a crucial diplomatic tool for bringing people together. “We have to make an effort to understand North Korean MICE, to exchange with them,” she says. “If we can do so, our industry can usher in a new era of co-operation and communication.” The idea is a fascinating one: could North Korea, a country whose repressive policies have left it isolated and with a crippled, highly sanctioned economy, be gradually opened up by MICE business? Could this most inaccessible of countries become an actual tourist destination, and how many people would want to visit, if convinced they would be safe? Stephanie, our tour guide, speaks candidly about the divide between North and South Korea. For many it remains an Bridging the line in the sand 24 hours earlier, we are sitting in the main hall of Incheon’s Songdo ConvensiA in South Korea, for the opening ceremony of the Korea MICE Expo 2019. Kim Kyung-sung, President of the South and North Korea Sports Exchange Association, is speaking about the possibility of bridging that line in the sand with a weapon more powerful than military might: business. “The MICE industry can offer a platform for exchange and co-operation between North and South Korea,” he says. “I believe we will be able to build an economic community with North Korea ISSUE 102 / CONFERENCE & MEETINGS WORLD / 31