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Exhibition World | Feature17Late last year, exhibition and conference industryprofessionals gathered in Seoul for the annual KoreaMICE Expo and co-located Seoul MICE Forum,taking place in the Coex conference and exhibition venue.On the opening day of the event, North Korea respondedto joint military exercises by the South and the USA byshelling the small island of Yeonpyeong. The violence killedtwo marines and at least two civilians, and put thepeninsula directly in the international spotlight.International visitors to the Expo would never haveguessed anything like it was taking place. Everything wenton smoothly, as planned. The only deviation from theprogramme was when Samuel Koo, president and CEO ofthe Seoul Tourism Corporation, called for a moment ofsilence during his opening speech out of respect for thedead. If not for this, then all the visitors - EWincluded -could have wined, dined, networked, and been drivenback to their cosy hotels without any idea of what wasgoing down.Visitors wanted to know if their hosts are about to goto war. However, it took professional stoicism to stick toa rigorous schedule at a time when people would beforgiven for thinking more about their families than thejob at hand. This attitude to finishing the task at handdespite extenuating circumstances is exemplary of thework ethic which has brought Korea forward so quicklyin the last few decades.However, the same cultural importance placed on doingone's duty can also impede the growth of the eventsindustry. According to Martin Sirk, CEO of the InternationalCongress and Conference Association, the people inclient-facing positions are reluctant to make decisions forthemselves for fear of undermining their superiors. Theresult is that every decision has to be channelled back upthrough the ranks and then sent back down, leading tolosses of adaptability and responsiveness, both crucial forhosting live events.By hosting the G20 summit late last year, Korea hoped toboost its profile as an international events destination, andspotlight Seoul as the new high-tech events centre with thenewly-expanded 36,000sqm Coex at its exhibition heart.Seoul's offer is a good one: the city has plenty of venuespace, good transport links to Incheon airport, and over thelast 10 years has poured a lot of money into rejuvenatingcentral areas of the city. Traffic is difficult however, andpollution can be a problem. Also, there is a lack of sufficientquality hotel rooms to accommodate large numbers of up-market business visitors.Despite the wealth of venue space, high business levelsand top-notch technology, a shortage of trainedprofessionals faces the maturing Korean MICE sector.According to Koo, low starting salaries make it difficult tobring qualified new graduates into the exhibition sector. "All the regional, local and national tourismorganisations are looking for trained people," he said,"but at the same time the wage level isn't high enoughso it is difficult to attract people to the industry." Anundefined career path in exhibitions or conferences isalso discouraging young Koreans from committingthemselves wholeheartedly to the industry.Korea, like any country, faces challenges. However,organisers underestimate the small peninsula at their peril.When the country brings its dominant work ethic to bear onevents, it will leap forward with the same speed as it has inother fields like information technology.Rising up against itTHE MAGAZINE FOR THE GLOBAL EXHIBITION COMMUNITY WWW.EXHIBITION-WORLD.NET| January 2011|South Korea is forging ahead with its exhibition industry expansion while tensionwith the North continues. Mike Trudeaureports.Korea's major venuesKintex, Gyeonggi-do:53,975sqm (54,508sqm as ofSeptember 2011)Coex, Seoul:36,027sqmBexco, Busan:33,183sqmKotrex, Daejon:29,195sqmExco, Daegu:22,716sqmKorean cultural mores survive rapid modernisation