SEOUL, Korea (eTN) – More than in any other travel segment, the lack of safety or the bad image of a destination has an immediate adverse effect on business and MICE tourism. In an interview done at the end of November in Seoul, ICCA CEO Martin Sirk expresses his point on how far negative events can impact a destination and what current trends are able to have a postive impact on a destination.
eTN: How far do you think that the recent violences between North and South Korea could potentially damage Seoul as a MICE and convention destination?
MARTIN SIRK: Seoul has a reputation of a safe destination among MICE organizers. Of course, the recent bombing of some islands near to the border to North Korea could possibily have an impact on travel to the country. But it would only affect leisure travel, while I do not expect any serious damage for MICE and busines travel. Korean people know that it is generally only rethorics, while businessmen continue to travel to places where headquarters are located.
eTN: Asia is also increasingly prone to natural disasters and catastrophes. Do you believe that it could affect the image of the continent in the long term?
MARTIN SIRK: Once again, I do not think that it could have a significant negative impact. And there are plenty of examples showing that I am probably right – San Francisco for example. San Francisco in the USA remains one of the most attractive destinations for MICE organizers despite the possibility of an earthquake. Communication remains, of course, of great importance. We experienced it in 2003 as an association when we organized our General Assembly, Congress, and Exhibition in Busan at the same time [as the] SARS epidemic. As an association, we will always go somewhere despite negative perception. This is part of our general policy. The only exception would be if insurance do[es] not cover anymore the destination we selected.
eTN: Do you take concrete steps to help countries affected by worldwide negative perception?
MARTIN SIRK: We, of course, do! We will help in practical terms, our members. That was, for example, the case for Sri Lanka as it was affected by the tsunami in 2004. We then did PR for Sri lanka to provide a communication channel for the world’s community. More recently, we helped also the Iceland Convention Bureau to turn April’s volcano eruption into an opportunity for MICE business. The bureau was expecting a drop of 30% in business travel following the volcano eruption. But they came with a unique marketing proposal: asking local people to send information to their partners about Iceland. Within a few days, a third of Iceland’s total population – the equivalent of 100,000 people – sent emails to business partners and contacts. Millions of mail with a link to a webcam showed that Iceland was fine. Finally, the country has recorded a drop of only 2% in business travel, an excellent achievement.
eTN: Beyond safety of a destination, what do you see as crucial marketing elements to lure MICE organizers?
MARTIN SIRK: Corporate social responsibility is becoming an extremely important element when selecting a venue, and I am glad to see that more and more Asian destinations and companies respond very positively to the rules set by social responsibility. For example, PEACH Convention Center in Pattaya (Thaïland) support[s] local orphanages. During our recent General Assembly in Hyderabad (India), we also supported a charity project for AIDS active prevention among local populations.