"It feels like I'm in Hollywood" "This is such a fabulous city that it can compete with the world's top class cities." These are just some of the compliments hotel staff and public officials in Busan heard from ethnic Korean businesspeople from around the world who were in the southern port city for the Fifth World Korean Business Convention recently. A staffer with the Paradise Hotel Busan says he was proud to hear the compliments. "People who last came here five or six years ago always say how much Busan has changed."
Busan is becoming Korea's Hong Kong. The costal city has a world-class port and holds international conferences of all sizes. Plenty of foreigners also enjoy its beautiful natural environment, lovely views and clean air. Infrastructure has made remarkable progress over the last decade, from Gwangan Grand Bridge with its stunning lighting that produces more than 20,000 colors to the Pusan International Film Festival, which has consolidated its status as Asia's largest. The Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO), which holds conferences and exhibitions almost every day, the newly built subway lines No. 2 and No. 3, Centum City, which is to have the largest shopping mall in Asia, a media center and IT zone, 40-50-story apartments in the Sooyoung Bay landfill, the APEC Nurimaru House, where leaders of 21 countries in the Asia Pacific region got together for their summit: the list goes on.
Lee, an office worker who last visited the city 10 years ago, was stunned. "I saw so many high-risers near Haeundae Beach, it reminded of Hong Kong," he said.
Movies are another thing Busan shares with the city that gave rise to Jackie Chan, Leslie Cheung Chow Yun-fat and Maggie Cheung. But if Hong Kong's film industry is shrinking, Busan's is on the rise. The PIFF, which celebrates its 11th anniversary this year, is a symbol of the rapidly changing city. It is the main success story among international events away from the capital. Movie stars from home and abroad take part in the festival, which draws audiences of more than 160,000. Festival director Kim Dong-ho says, "PIFF has grown to the point where figures in the global movie industry beg for invitations." PIFF launched an Asian Film Market this year where investors, distributors, directors, cutting-edge movie equipment suppliers and actors get together to network, invest and make casting decisions, an ambitious project to link the movie festival and culture with the industry. Some 3,500 people and 560 companies from 40 countries took part in this year's AFM.
Both Busan and Hong Kong are international port cities. Hong Kong has the world's second largest container port, processing 22.42 million containers last year, and Busan has the fifth largest with 11.84 million, after Shanghai with 18.08 million and Shenzen with 16.19 million. Hong Kong came top two years ago and Busan in third place until 2002. Busan was ranked third after Hong Kong and Singapore in 2002, but Singapore topped the list processing 23.19 million containers last year. Thus if Hong Kong and Busan compete, they also need to cooperate to hold their own against the other major ports.
BEXCO gained global attention by holding the 2001 World Cup Draw and the APEC summit in 2005. It recently held the World Korean Business Convention where 1,500 ethnic Korean businessman from 170 countries gathered together and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Ministerial Conference on Transport, which drew 1,000 people from 62 countries. Thanks to that, Busan has made it into the top 10 Asian cities to host international conferences only four years after the center opened. The city overtook Jeju as Korea's no. 2 after Seoul in terms of hosting international exhibitions and conferences. Busan held 49 international conferences last year and Jeju came third with 42. Among venues, COEX in Seoul came top by holding 32 international conferences and BEXCO second with 22.
But Hong Kong is also a global financial center and a tourism and shopping Mecca. Many multinational banks such as Standard Chartered Bank have their Asian headquarters there. Hong Kong is also famous for its beautiful night landscape and the diversity of its cuisine. These are areas where Busan is trying to catch up. First of all, it is to get four skyscrapers taller than 100 stories within the next decade. Busan Port Authority announced last October it will build two landmark buildings, one 100 stories tall and the other 120, in the city's special zone to be set up to promote international business and exchange as part of its master plan to redevelop the North Port. In addition, a 107-story Lotte World is under construction at the site of the old municipal government building, while property developer Solomon Group is to build the World Business Center Busan, a high-riser with between 102 and 110 stories in Centum City near Haeundae. When construction is completed, Busan will be on a par with Seoul in terms of the number of tall buildings.