My small ‘museum’ contribution to Seoul

I started going to Seoul for work in 2005. I have always been fascinated by the city, its energy and its strong cultural appetite. When Celebrating Life was appointed by Compagnie des Alpes (CDA) in 2010 to help with the development of Grévin in Asia, we picked 3 cities and of course Seoul was one of them. Five years later Grévin Seoul is about to open and this is the story of how it happened!

First we assessed the tourism environment and we were surprised by how few themed attractions Seoul had. Of course there is the Seoul N Tower, the Palaces, the National Museum and Lotte World but that’s not enough for the huge population of Seoul residents (10million) and the increasing number of tourists from China and SE Asia.

On top of that we found the appetite of Korean for all things cultural and especially French is almost unmatched. French exhibitions such as the Louvre Exhibition at the National Museum of Korea in 2012 can attract more than 500,000 visitors in a few months!

So we thought Grévin was the right fit for Seoul as we could bring a quality themed attraction for tourists and residents, with a French touch. The consumer research conducted by Ipsos in 2012 provided very useful guidelines and confirmed the strong appetite of Koreans for education-driven entertainment as well as their fascination for French culture and products.

We then had to find the perfect site and so we looked at a dozen different possibilities but could not settle for anything we liked until the Seoul Business Agency, whom we brought to Paris to see Grévin, asked us to look at the annex building of the City Hall on Euljiro. And we immediately fell in love with this ‘heritage’ building (built by the Japanese) right across from the Lotte Hotel and one block away from the main City Hall square.

Grevin Seoul building (before renovation)

Grevin Seoul building (before renovation)

MOU Signing Ceremony between PARK Won Soon and Dominique MARCEL

MOU Signing Ceremony between PARK Won Soon and Dominique MARCEL

The mayor himself is a big supporter of the project, which he sees as a great tourism addition to the city. So after a few months of discussion with his office MOU was signed between himself and the Chairman of CDA in Seoul in March 2013.

None of that would have been possible without the valuable help of Yong K. Kim and his company Mast Entertainment, whom we approached to be CDA’s partner for this project. Mast Entertainment has a live entertainment background (promoter of Cirque du Soleil in Korea) and knows the local market very well. Yong K. Kim was looking for something a bit more long-term than shows and Grévin was the perfect fit.

Now let me tell you about the product, which I think is a good illustration of my recent post on “beauty” and “humor” possibly being the next big things for our industry.

As they did for their other projects Grévin took a non-traditional design approach. They decided to use their ‘Production du Parc’ team as project manager and asked a talented museum designer – Atelier Confino – to work on the concept design. The mix of both, together with the input of Yong K. Kim, allowed them to achieve a unique visitor experience that will be a great addition to Seoul’s tourism landscape.

Grevin Seoul concept illustration (credit: Anais Van Den Bussche)

Grevin Seoul concept illustration (credit: Anais Van Den Bussche)

What I like about Grévin is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. They like to provoke, not too much but just enough, to create stronger memories for their visitors. They started experimenting in Paris then in Montreal, Prague and now in Seoul. They want visitors to be surprised and leave with a smile on their face. And this brings “humor”, which is much needed in our industry.

As for “beauty”? Well, Grévin’s tagline ‘The Art of Make-Believe’ says it all. Wax figures are made by real artists in the Paris studio and the decors are very elaborate just like a theatre stage. They want visitors to go through a variety of emotional states during their visit, a bit like in a show or a movie.

Enough said about the product; you should see it for yourself when it opens in July 2015.

As a last note I would add that I am proud to contribute to the great city of Seoul with this exciting new attraction, which is a good example of what I believe in: the right location, the right product and the right partner.

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Reporting from Hallyu World, Ilsan, Korea

From the topI read about the opening of OneMount Goyang, supposedly housing Korea’s 3rd largest water park. I was intrigued and did some research. When I realized it was part of the greater Hallyu World (i.e. Korean Wave) project in Ilsan, near Seoul, I decided to go check it out and give you the real gist.

Hallyu World is located North-West of Seoul; it took me 1 hour by metro (line 3) from the city centre and a short walk from Juyeop station through a housing development to reach the site. This ambitious project from the local government (Gyeonggi-do) and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is adjacent to KINTEX, a 220,000sqm exhibition centre opened in 2005. The project consists of a dozen of parcels, which have been tendered out for hotel, retail and leisure & entertainment developments.

So far only two developments have been completed: the MVL hotel by Daemyung (also the owner of Ocean World, Korea’s second largest water park) and OneMount Goyang. When I asked my Korean friends why only two I was told the current state of the economy is such that only construction/development companies – which both projects are – can afford to build these days.

So in an attempt to boost the development of Hallyu World (before the Korean wave crushes!), the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced they will give KWN 25 billion (US$22.2 million) in subsidy to the winner of a bid to build a 18,000 seat arena dedicated to K-pop by the end of 2016. The government hopes this will bring renewed interest to Hallyu World and attract investors for other planned components such as the pop music museum, Hall of Fame and education facility for pop music.

So back to what’s there now. It looks like a large construction site, typical of a Korean new city (e.g. Songdo) with two big mushrooms: the 20-storey, 377-room five-star MVL hotel and OneMount Goyang.

OneMount Goyang

Don’t expect anything of the scale of Everland or Vivaldi Park, OneMount Goyang is more like a regional mall (160,000sqm) with a water park and snow park on top. It also features a huge fitness complex, where the PSY video of Gentle Man was shot: great marketing exercise!

I went on a week day and less than a month after opening so it was still pretty quiet although the metro was covered with ads for OneMount Goyang. The layout of the mall is quite nice with open-air shopping streets. I found the ticketing counter for the water park and snow park easily thanks to the very cool water rides sticking out of the building. I paid KWN 18,000 (US$16) for a ticket to the water park.
The press release says “the waterpark offers nine slides, 18 pools and beach pool with five different types of waves” but I could only really count 4 rides and a rather small wave pool. The water park is divided in two floors. The indoor one is reminiscent of Lotte World with similar decors, high ceilings, and a surrounding elevated pathway to watch people play in the different (mostly kids) pools. The outdoor floor is smaller and probably more dedicated to teenagers with a couple of thrill rides and a (very small) party pool for events and performances.

The water park makes good use of the building with rides sticking out and the lazy river surrounding the building, partly indoor partly outdoor.

Cool rides sticking out

Although of good quality (Whitewater rides) and attended by friendly staff, OneMount Goyang does not strike me as one of the potential top 3 water parks in Korea and I can’t see families from all over Seoul – even less so tourists – rushing through the doors. However as a regional mall I think the developer did a good job with a good F&B offering, plenty of space for kids to play and the ID Hair concept, which I thought was amazing: it must be the biggest open-style hair salon in the world.

So what do I take away from this little expedition to Hallyu World?

–       Korea is good at announcing big attractions projects but they don’t always come true. What ever happened to Universal Studios Korea? Or Paramount Movie Park? These were all over the news a few years ago.

–       When attractions do get built they are often by construction/development companies with little experience who tend to seek inspiration from (if not copy) existing ones – in this case from Lotte World.

–       Innovation comes with passion and maybe Koreans are not (yet) passionate enough about leisure & entertainment – it is a serious society where education and career are parents’ top priorities – but Koreans are definitely passionate about their looks and this is maybe why I was much more impressed by the ID Hair concept than I was by the water park I was initially going there for!

Friendly staffThat being said, I have hopes that Hallyu World – because it is about pop culture, which Koreans are passionate about – will attract more innovation and unique concepts people will come from all over Seoul and from overseas to enjoy. So see you there in 2016 for a big K-pop concert and great attractions experiences!