ONE EXECUTIVE’S ADVICE FOR FINDING FUN AND GREAT BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS IN SOUTH KOREA’S CAPITAL CITY
Over the past few years, I have traveled to Seoul, South Korea, many times for business. This has been in large part due to the ratification of the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement in 2012 that unleashed countless new opportunities for U.S. exporters like my company to sell more Made-in-U.S.A. goods, services and agricultural products to Korean customers—and most importantly, to support more good jobs here at home.
Seoul is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. Only about 50 miles from the demilitarization zone (DMZ) and border to North Korea, the city is situated adjacent to the Han River and has a population of more than 10 million people. Its history stretches back more than 2,000 years, and the city is home to several major automobile manufacturers such as Hyundai, Daewoo and Kia Motors, along with electronics giants such as Samsung and LG.
A city immersed in the past but eager to embrace modern times, Seoul is one of Asia’s most interesting and culturally vibrant destinations. Having only become a major tourist destination in the last decade, Seoul still has many secrets for adventurists to share. Many neighborhoods, sites and markets scarcely see tourists, but offer a nice chance to mix with locals.
Getting to Seoul is rather straight forward, with plenty of direct flight options from most major U.S. airports. Korea’s two largest airlines, Korean Air (KAL) and Asiana Airlines (OZ), have major hubs at Incheon Airport (ICN) and the smaller Gimpo (GMP)—which was the main international airport for Seoul and South Korea before being replaced by Incheon International Airport in 2001. Today, Incheon is the primary airport serving the Seoul National Capital Area and one of the largest and busiest airports in the world.
My preference is Korean Airlines with their twice-daily flights from Los Angeles to Seoul aboard relatively new Airbus 380-800s. The A380 has a superior Business Class layout that occupies the entire second level of the airplane with lay-flat sleeper seats and two lounges, fore and aft, to help relax during the 14-hour flight.
In Seoul, first-class telecommunications, five-star hotels, western restaurants, modern transport systems (including very efficient subway networks in Seoul and Busan via the KTX high-speed train) and innovative architecture can be found throughout the city. For top-pick, business-friendly hotels, downtown Seoul offers the J.W. Marriott or the Westin Chosun in close proximity to business central, or the Sheraton D-Cube City Hotel just outside of City Central on the west side of the Han River.
When visiting on business, one should be ready to mix professional with social life as the Koreans base their business relationships upon personal ones. Drinking Korean alcohol—soju, beer, scotch or other liquor—is commonplace in establishing a personal, business relationship. Also commonplace is the “noraebang” (song room), where businesspeople frequent establishments to drink and sing karaoke in private rooms with their Korean counterparts—so tune up your vocal chords!
There are many dining options in Seoul, from high end restaurants to less formal, family style or traditional Korean BBQ establishments. Korean cuisine is largely based upon rice, vegetables and meats. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes (Banchan) that accompany steam-cooked, short-grain rice. Kimchi, Korea’s cabbage-based national dish, is served often, sometimes at every meal. The Seoul Tower, a major city landmark, measures more than 700 feet high, and a revolving restaurant at the top affords diners a 360-degree view of the city.
While visiting Seoul, there are several adjacent areas that are worth checking out. Gangnam is the commercial center and forms the financial center in conjunction with Yeoui Island; Digital Media City is the technology hub. The Jongno and Central District areas are the historical and cultural centers of Seoul. Both the Greater Gangnam Area and Gangnam itself —inspiration for the “Gangnam Style” pop single—are widely known for heavily concentrated wealth and high standards of living, which has been compared to such cities as Beverly Hills, Calif. Korea’s most expensive real estate can be found in the Gangnam District.
Busan is the largest seaport in Korea, located about 200 miles south of Seoul. The KTX high-speed train is a perfect way to make the journey. It takes a little more than two hours and is a very comfortable way to travel. It affords passengers a nice opportunity to see the Korean countryside while countless rice patties fly by at almost 200 miles per hour. A must-see in Busan is Haeundae Beach, a beautiful stretch of sand worth visiting when meetings have concluded and relaxation is the order of the day.
Brad Dwan is managing director of International Energy Sales, Inc., a manufacturer’s representative for leading companies in the Renewable Energy, Electric Vehicle and Energy Storage space.
How Suite It Is