Lessons from the Winter Sonata City

Greetings from the City of PyeongChang, South Korea, one of three candidate cities competing to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. I arrived here yesterday evening to lead the Brunei delegation, not for the Olympics, but for an ASEAN+3 Finance meeting here. PyeongChang is a four hour drive from Incheon, Korea's International Airport. After a 7 hour flight and a 4 hour drive getting here, I am wondering why on earth would the Koreans want to host the meeting in this rather remote mountainous city. But having seen the beauty and of course, the possibility of reminding delegates of the upcoming Olympics vote for the 2014 Winter Olympics, we all know why we have to come here. Oh by the way, this place is also where they filmed most of the scenes for the Korean drama Winter Sonata (don't tell me you don't know what that is...)

The facilities at the hotel is of course similar to what most hotels would provide except that they have a few ski resorts nearby. The Korean technology is on display here. I am typing this entry on the flatscreen PC in my room with free broadband connection that zips at frightening speed (except that everything is in Korean - so I have to guess where the menu buttons are). I had to take a lesson in toilet flushing. Apparently there is a button to lift the toilet cover, a button to lift the toilet seat and another for both. The self cleansing buttons too have gender differences. After experimenting, the water squirts are angled differently, of course.

This is my third time to visit Korea in the space of about 15 months, after having never come here at all before that. But everytime I turn up here, the meetings are always held in different cities. It gives the opportunity for that city to earn some money by having delegates come to visit that city plus the fact that most times, we have to use some form of transportation to get to that city - so again an added bonus to the local transportation business. This is the one thing we don't do in Brunei or rather we can't do in Brunei.

A couple of years back, when I was a department head honcho, we were preparing to host one ASEAN meeting. I asked my officers to consider the possibility of hosting the meeting in Kuala Belait instead of Bandar Seri Begawan as everyone was arguing that the previous meeting was held in Bandar. The answer was we can't do it in KB. I asked why. There were many reasons, but the major one was, the inadequacy of accommodations. We needed at least 100 rooms for the 100+ delegates to come and there weren't enough rooms available. Another was the secretariat - we had to ferry everyone in. Another was the difficulty of transporting the delegates - we had to do that and there was some issue about transportation etc. There was a another issue about conference rooms etc. Plus a host of other issues which I thought was a bit trivial but nevertheless it led to this impression that we can't have big official meetings in KB. Forget the other two districts for the time being as their infrastructure is even very much less than that of KB. Considering Brunei hosts a number of official international meetings - why don't someone build up enough infrastructure in the other districts? Someone told me that they can't build up the infrastructure as there might not be enough demand for it and nobody wants to risk it.

So we have a Catch-22 situation. We can't host meetings outside the capital because there is not enough infrastructure outside. Nobody wants to build the infrastructure because they are not sure of how many times would those facilities be used and whether they can recover their investments - and of course with no investment in infrastructure, we can't host the meetings outside the capital. I have stayed at the Riviera and the Seaview Hotel. The Riviera is similar to most hotels I have stayed in other cities. The Seaview at that time would require some form of transformation which I have been told have been done now. But the numbers of availability just don't match up to the number of demands should there be one. Therein lies the problem.

The hospitality industry in Brunei is potentially huge. We hosted a number of meetings, events etc being officially open, officially launched, with foreign guests, speakers and participants. I would say that we are rather good at it - this being one of what economists call as our 'comparative advantage'. Too bad this isn't exportable or transferable. Some places are more 'laku' than others. Why? Should the government step in? Or should these be a private sector issue? To me, it's sayang that with the many ASEAN, APEC and other meetings hosted in Brunei, all of them are held in Bandar thus depriving what could be a great potential economic boost to any of the other towns in Brunei, if only given the chance to host those meetings.


Anonymous said…
Interesting post about PyeongChang Mr. BR! Is it snowing there and I think I am one of the few Bruneians who didn't watch 'Winter Sonata'or otherwise I know what you are talking about! May be if I have more time I'll watch the CD/DVD instead since most Bruneians really crazy about this drama. Thanks for the post and are we expecting more about the City of PyeongChang in your coming blogs...
Anonymous said…
There is a saying:

Opportunities multiply as they are seized ~ Sun Tzu ~

If we're not going to even try and go out there and grab them, no way we're ever going to progress.

I hate catch 22s situations...
Anonymous said…
Me too, I have not watched winter sonata. What is the craze all about anyway?

On other note, I totally agree with your article about Brunei has huge potential in hospitality industry. We have hosted several "international" conferences here and I see more and more of this kind of events organized by our government.

It does boost our economy. We see new hotels risen up like mushrooms after the rain. And that is a good sign. These things does not come over night. We need time to build up infrastructure. And thanks to our government that they have helped and taking aggressive initiatives.
Anonymous said…
You all should watch the drama, its very romantic.

What u describe MrBR is also like chicken and egg situation..

In Brunei, the government is a key driver to change and thus should play their role! Private sector in Brunei is consider small, even those big one have strong government influence.

The top management should put more commitement / efforts if Brunei want to progress further. For any decision on project whatsoever, One should not think of one ministry alone without thinking of it effect on others. What I want to say is there should be 'goal congruence'.

For example, to attract more visitors to Brunei it might not necessarily the MIPR alone to think about it. Nowadays, countries like our neighbouring country Singapore are attracting tourists through education (they strive to be good education providers) , medical etc.

One more things I realise that we need to change or work culture from people culture to task culture. If u know what I mean MR BR.

Love the picture. :)

Anonymous said…
agree that there should be some sort of government led drive to rejuvenate our oil district. apparently BSP is planning a multimillion dollar revamp of their BSP Guesthouse to bring it to international 5-star standards and have it expanded to accommodate at least 60 rooms. an opportunity there for local business development? or not?
Anonymous said…

i just watched the news on tv, there;s actually birdflu outbreak at a chicken farm last week and also the above url, anyway, u look after urself over there, Mr BR.
baz: ah, that's what it was... i was watching korean tv - no satellite in this hotel - all the channels including the football are in korean - and i was watching this news with pictures of dead chickens etc... now i know, what's going on.

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