If there was one thing WIT Seoul 2018 proved, it’s that interest, and hunger for knowledge, in the digital travel space is at an all-time high in a market where rapid technological change and changing consumer behaviour are forcing travel incumbents to wake up and smell the web, as it were.
A record attendance of 330 delegates, from all walks of South Korea’s travel industry – from traditional players to startups, hoteliers to airlines, travel agents to media – attended the one-day event held at Seoul Dragon City on April 3.
Media interest was also strong with the event receiving coverage in at least 20 local publications, among them the leading daily newspaper, Chosun Ilbo.
The venue itself, a complex of three hotels totalling more than 2,000 rooms and convention centre, managed by AccorHotels, is evidence of Seoul’s continued push into inbound tourism and the meetings segment, and the increased competition.
In 2017, visitor arrivals to South Korea totalled 13.3 million, a sharp drop from 17.2 million the year before, due largely to the strained relations with China, which saw a ban in Chinese group travel to the country.
This decline is seen as a mere blip in a market that has great opportunity in both outbound and inbound. About 25m Koreans travelled abroad in 2017, an impressive number for a country of 52m. Of these, 7m travelled to Japan. Phocuswright projects the South Korea travel market in 2018 to be worth US$15b in total bookings with an online penetration of 46%.
“The Korean market place is full of opportunities. There is a robust local online ecosystem, with strong brands like Naver and Kakao working with other powerful agencies like Hanatour and Tidesquare that are also building their online presence,” said Sebastien Gibergues, VP Online Travel Asia Pacific, Amadeus Travel Channels.
“At the same time, global brands are entering the market with a pure online travel player approach. It will be interesting to see how these two forces collide over the next couple of years,” he added.
Industry stalwarts such as chief executives of Hana Tour, Interpark and Korea Association of Travel Agents took to the stage to talk about how they were adapting to the change and the challenges they face from disruptors and outsiders.
The Representative Director & Executive Vice President of Korean Air, Kee Hong Woo, shared his concerns and observations about the increasing US competition, and how traditional airlines must embrace digital to stay ahead.
Hawaiian Airlines and senior vice president, global sales & alliances, Theo Panagiotoulias, talked about how his airline was marketing its home islands to the Korean traveller, and that the biggest market for its Honolulu service was single women aged from 25-40.
Four startups took part in an Innovation Showcase which saw Tripbtoz, a personalised online travel platform that recommends vacation and travel packages based on individuals’ preferences, win a ticket to WIT Japan & North Asia taking place in Tokyo on June 28-29.
Social issues were also addressed by Rajan Sakya, CEO of KGH Hotels Group in Nepal, who urged the industry to be socially responsible from day one and not wait till profits start rolling in. KGH Hotels Group is designed around supporting social causes like female and youth empowerment, health, the environment and migrant labour support, without sacrificing profits.
“Seeing such international conferences being held so successfully in Korea, I see that even Korea’s vulnerable tourism industry players are growing and succeeding one by one. Next year, I hope the event is even bigger so that even more people can attend and debate passionately the trends and issues in the travel industry, cementing WIT Seoul’s standing as the most important event in our industry,” said Kim Injin, Director of Asset Management, CDL Hotels Korea.
Echoing Kim’s comments, Gibergues added, “I am quite impressed with the event, great attendance and very relevant content.”
“The success of WIT Seoul is due to a good mixture of delegates from airlines, hotels, travel agencies and start-ups as well as great speakers coming from every corner of the industry,” said Min Yoon, CEO and founder of Tidesquare, a WIT partner.
For a summary of the event: http://www.webintravel.com/letter-from-seoul-south-koreas-travel-braces-for-change-as-perfect-storm-approaches/
The WIT Conference is Asia’s leading online travel conference, held in Singapore every year, focused on travel technology, distribution and marketing. The two-day event will be held on October 16-17, 2018 and the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre.
WIT has won awards including Most Innovative Marketing Initiative and Trade Conference Of The Year and in 2014, its founder Yeoh Siew Hoon was recognised as Tourism Entrepreneur of The Year in Singapore.
Every year, WIT sees over 500 travel industry delegates in attendance from leading companies such as: Expedia, Ctrip, Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Grab, Paytm, Amadeus, Travelport, and many more.
Over the past 13 years, WIT Conferences have been organised and held in multiple cities around the world, including: Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, London, Amsterdam, Sydney, Bali, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Dubai & Taipei.