The Current State of Conventions for International Associations and Seoul’s Performance


Seoul, Second Place in the Ranking by Number of Participants

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The ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association), which publishes information yearly on the number of association meetings held around the world, reported in its 2016 International Association Meetings Statistical Report  that a total of 12,212 international meetings were held last year.

The numbers show that 149 more meetings were held – an increase of 1.23% – in comparison to the previous year. A look at the data from the past 50 years reveals that the number of international association meetings have doubled every 10 years. The numbers from 2016 show evidence of this exponential growth, since it has doubled more than the 2006 total.

Meanwhile, the report has also revealed that the numbers of participants totaled 4.94 million – an increase of 220,000 (4.7%) participants from the previous year. The increase of participants is four times higher than the increase of international association meetings, which indicates that the number of participants per meeting has increased in comparison to the previous year.

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A look at the city ranking by numbers of meetings organized shows Paris at the top spot with 196 meetings, followed by Vienna (186), Barcelona (181), Berlin (176), and London (153). Two cities from Asia made the top ten with Singapore coming in at 6th (151) and Seoul in at 10th (137), with the rest being comprised of European cities.

For the city rankings by number of participants, Vienna came in first with 120,000 participants, followed by Seoul in second (105,000), Barcelona in third, Copenhagen in fourth, and London in fifth. Seoul flew up the list of rankings with a 102% (52,000) increase in the number of participants in comparison to the previous year. Seoul nudged out Beijing (83.48%) and took the top spot for having highest rate of increase in participant numbers.

The rankings for the meeting numbers and the numbers of participants reveal different aspects. Paris, which came in first for having the highest number of meetings, got pushed down to seventh place by number of participants. Vienna, which came in at second in terms of number of meetings, came in first on the ranking for number of participants. Seoul, which came in at 10th for the number of meetings organized, took second place in the ranking by number of participants.

Photo by: Seoul Convention Bureau

Although Seoul peformed well according to UIA’s (Union of International Associations) standards for numbers of international meetings organized, it is true that Seoul’s performance appeared weak, relatively speaking, according to ICCA’s standards. Looking at UIA’s numbers published for 2016 shows Seoul coming in at third for the second year in a row in terms of the number of international meetings organized. Such a result is worth paying attention to as Seoul was able to nudge out European cities such as Paris (4th), Vienna (5th), Berlin (8th), Barcelona (9th), and Geneva (10th); the listed European cities has led the world market for international meetings for a long time.

Graphic by: Seoul Convention Bureau

On the other hand, Seoul has stayed at the number ten spot on ICCA’s ranking for number of international meetings for some time, and has never managed to enter the top five. However, with Seoul quickly taking the number two spot on ICCA’s ranking for number of participants, it is evident that Seoul is gradually strengthening its competitive edge according to the standards of both the UIA and ICCA. Also, in terms of economic value added, as the number of participants holds more weight than the number of meetings organized, the fact that Seoul has risen to second place in terms of participation  numbers is significant.

The fact that Seoul could produce such an outcome despite its lacking infrastructure can be attributed to the city’s creative efforts to make up for its insufficiencies. Such efforts include the differentiated promotions according to meeting markets, new and strategic programs like the clinic to attract international meetings, and the use of unique venues as atypical conference locations.

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However, with major cities like New York, Sydney, Paris, and London investing in bold and innovative infrastructure and increasing their competitive edge within the convention industry through support policies, Seoul needs to step up its game to produce even better results. In order to improve Seoul’s infrastructure, services, organizational competency, and human resources, strategic investments and creative policies are necessary.

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