The MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions) industry in Busan, once heralded as a beacon of growth, is now confronting pressing challenges. The very foundation of MICE’s competitive advantage stems from ‘sustainability‘. This ideally would be accompanied by the creation of an industrial ecosystem. However, BEXCO, a central player in this field in Busan, has been rather engrossed in generating stable revenue by relying on the city of Busan, rather than fostering local industries or working in harmony with them.
Comparing the recent industry metrics of Busan with that of Seoul and even Incheon, it’s evident that the former lags behind despite 22 years of BEXCO’s establishment to enhance the global competitiveness of Busan’s MICE. Observers have raised concerns about BEXCO’s seeming indifference to local professional convention organizers (PCOs), suggesting monopolization of major events in the city.
Furthermore, while BEXCO has been involved in organizing numerous events, many within the local industry question their role in those not aligned with their expertise. This is seen in their participation in diverse events ranging from healthcare to maritime defense, some of which may not align directly with BEXCO’s specialized knowledge.
There is a pressing sentiment in the industry that while BEXCO should be leading the way, it appears to be stifling local MICE growth. Moreover, the gradual increase in rental rates at BEXCO has led to a palpable discontent among many local private companies.
While Busan showcased an unexpected growth last year with its exports surpassing $16 billion for the first time, thanks to notable contributions from companies like Renault Korea, this year the figures have been disappointing. In the past four months, there was a decline of 9.4% in exports. This decline, among other economic indicators, reveals a less rosy picture of Busan’s economy. The city’s reliance on low-added-value industries and underwhelming presence in the ICT sector as compared to other regions in Korea paints a bleak picture.
As of 2021, Busan’s real GRDP was overshadowed by Incheon, and its growth rate over the last five years has been significantly lower than the national average. Local companies too are facing stagnation; the number of companies included in the nation’s top 1,000 based on sales has shrunk over the years.
All these economic indicators suggest that Busan, despite its status as South Korea’s second-largest city, is not living up to its potential. This has led to a derogatory perception that Busan is merely a city of the elderly and the sea.
Intertwining the MICE industry’s challenges with Busan’s larger economic concerns, the situation exacerbates the creation of low-quality jobs in the city. With BEXCO monopolizing major events and not collaborating with local entities, the city might be missing out on opportunities to offer higher quality, specialized jobs in the MICE sector. The downturn in exports and the city’s reliance on low-added-value industries further constrain opportunities for young professionals. This necessitates a thorough reevaluation and strategic planning to revive Busan’s economy and the MICE sector’s potential.