The Seoul Tourism Organization (STO) under the direction of CEO Samuel Koo made, what is for Korea, an unusual decision, when it was first established in 2008. It recruited a non-Korean woman to fill an executive position in their international marketing department, thus bringing Maureen O’Crowley back to Seoul.
Maureen first came to Seoul in June 1972 when her father, a U.S. Air Force officer, was posted to Korea to serve as the U.S. liaison to the Korean Ministry of National Defense. He encouraged his family, including his teenage daughter, to get to know as much they could about the people and culture of their new home. Maureen took that suggestion to heart and spent her two years in Seoul exploring the city, making friends, learning Korean traditions and language, trying out Korean dishes and recipes. During that time she also served as a volunteer guide at the Seoul USO, which she credits as contributing to her eventual career path.
In fact, Maureen’s links to Korea continued over the years in both her personal life and professional career. Her first job in public relations was with Korean Airline and prior to coming to Korea with STO, she had had worked for two years as Marketing Manager for the Los Angeles branch of the Korea Tourism Organization. Her credentials also included almost thirty years operating her own travel agency in California.
According to Maureen, she didn’t think twice when she was offered the opportunity to come back to Korea. “I left balmy Los Angeles and followed my heart back to Seoul.”
Her memories of her experiences of life and relationships in 1970’s Korea prepared her to some extent for life and work here but the city, and her circumstances, were very different this time around. For one thing, Seoul in 2008 has a very different look and feel from its 1974 incarnation. Plus, her circumstances were very different. No longer was she a student and daughter coming to Korea. She was here as an adult entrusted with the responsibility of making the world see Seoul as a desirable convention/meeting destination.
Upon her arrival, Maureen was transferred to the STO’s most active department, the convention bureau. Seoul had been relatively unknown in the international arena of meetings and conventions and as Senior Director of International Marketing she was tasked with turning that around. Presentations are her specialty and anyone hearing her speak can’t help but notice her love and pride she has for her adopted home. It also shows in how she describes her job. “I am honored every time I showcase Seoul. The audience response is always rewarding, from those who tell me they will now consider for a future convention to Koreans beaming with pride as they see their city through my eyes.”
Despite many challenges since its establishment, including a global financial crisis, STO has reason to be proud of its achievements, including Seoul’s ranking as one of the top 10 convention cities in the world, receiving the Asia-Pacific’s travel industry TTG ‘Best MICE* City award, earning the ‘Best International Business Meetings Destination’ designation by Business Traveler US magazine for 2012 as well as the hosting of the 2012 SKAL** International Congress in 2012.
In fact, Maureen who has been promoted to Vice-President of the STO’s Seoul Convention Bureau will be the president of the Skal Club Seoul for 2013. In the midst of travelling around the world to showcase Seoul and introducing foreign representatives of major organizations and associations to the attractions of the city, Maureen also managed to find the time to earn her Master’s degree in Tourism Administration from George Washington University in 2011.
When asked if she finds it challenging to be a woman, especially a foreign woman, in a position of authority in Korea, Maureen has this to say “With much of my experience directly related to Korea, my colleagues recognize that I came here with a deep understanding of Seoul’s tourism challenges and a genuine desire to make a difference.”
Tourism is an economic driver and while Korea may have been a little late getting into the MICE industry, Maureen believes that Korean can maintain its upward momentum if all the tourism stakeholders speak with one voice and government of all levels ensure consistency from overall policy to financial support.
*MICE stands for ‘Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions’.
** SKAL is made up of 20,000 members from 85 nations and unites all branches of the tourism industry.
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