The Rotary International Convention held last year in Seoul, South Korea, almost broke the record for highest attendance in the group’s 100-year history.
Almost 50,000 people from 200 countries attended the annual global event, which was also the largest event held in Seoul last year. Of course, Rotary pulled out all the local stops: K-pop acts, Korean fried chicken and traditional dancers, to name a few.
Rotary International has about 34,282 member clubs worldwide and 1.2 million individual members. Its main purpose is to bring together business and professional leaders to provide humanitarian services that advance goodwill in the world. Connect with Korea – Touch the World, not only encouraged camaraderie but also included an exhibit floor with a number of global charity organizations. The main event was held at the city’s Kintex exhibition center and several affiliate events held by individual Rotary chapters kept the group in South Korea for at least another 10 days.
Several stakeholders helped make the massive event possible. Experient, a Maritz Global Events Company, was hired on to execute the task of hotel sourcing and housing management, with on-the-ground support from Kim’s Travel that also served as the official service provider for transportation and additional tours. Of course, planners from Rotary and an active host operating committee also helped incorporate a local flair.
“Korea is an area of significant membership growth and donor activity for Rotary,” says Shannon Watson, director of meetings & events at Rotary International. “In addition, it has exceptional venues, exciting culture and a strong tradition of hospitality.”
A Rotary World
One case in point, the Korean Rotarians were so welcoming that the opening ceremonies ran twice. Local musicians, dancers and youth gathered as part of Rotary’s flag ceremony, an annual tradition that displays all the flags of the Rotary world.
The host operating committee made it a priority to incorporate K-Pop acts and other high-energy performances into the welcome event. They also organized a robust schedule of tours and events that included visits to local and remote temples and shrines, a tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), performances by the Seoul Symphony, and pre- and post-tours to various parts of South Korea. One of the other Rotary traditions included was a “Host Hospitality” night, when local Rotarians are matched with Rotarians from other countries and host them for a meal and evening activities.
The event also creatively incorporated Korean cuisine via food trucks between the Kintex I and Kintex II concourse. “They were incredibly popular with the attendees, who tried a variety of local delicacies and found some comfort foods such as barbecue and fried chicken that translated across [various cultures],” Watson explains.
The Rotary program attracted top-name Koreans as well, with keynote speeches from the Eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn. And as part of the closing ceremony, Psy—the famous Korean musician and YouTube sensation known for the hit “Gangham Style”—performed. The performer has his own Rotary connection as his father and grandfather were members.
Watson says local companies that understood Korean customs and culture were also crucial to the success of the event. “There are some complexities in working in the Korean culture. OK doesn’t mean yes, it means, ‘I understand what you’re asking for.’ It’s easy to think that an agreement has been reached when that conclusion is premature.