Monday, June 16, 2014

Seoul’s Travel Library—Haven for Both Armchair and Intrepid Trekkers

The Travel Library, Hyundai Card’s new brand experience, was at the top of my “to do” list as I ventured from the hotel to explore Seoul during my most recent trip to Korea. An affiliate of the Hyundai Motor Group, Hyundai Card offers a number of exclusive benefits to their cardholders—most often with breakthrough creativity to raise brand awareness. For example, in 2006, Hyundai Card unveiled PRIVIA, a web-based shopping mall, which offers various products and services exclusively to members. The company also in past years sponsored a Lady Gaga performance and they continue to promote regular summer concert series headlined by rock legends, including Metallica, Iggy Pop and Ozzie Osborne.

Similar to their Design Library, which showcases design culture from around the world, the Travel Library is now home to 94,324 books and 14,700 volumes of publications with a focus on the Arts, Architecture, Adventure and Travel Photography.

Don Southerton Hyundai Card
Store Front
Re-confirming the location on my Google map app and arriving there with little effort, the library has an eye catching storefront on a side street in the trendy Cheongdam area of Gangnam. Once inside and explaining my interest to the staff, the manager was kind enough to provide a personalized tour.

Don Southerton Korea
Travel Cave
Conceptually, the uber cool design featuring vaulted wood ceilings and a maze-like layout provides a truly unique “travel cave” experience, beckoning one to explore further. With tightly packed floor- to-ceiling walls of books, archetypical chairs from around the globe and a world class café, the space provides an armchair haven for the novice tourist or the seasoned trekker.

World Cafe
The library collection was compiled by a distinguished team of travel industry media professionals who acted as curators. The entire set of the 126-year-old National Geographic magazine is housed in the library. Another hidden treasure pointed out by my guide is the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch collection. Reaching back to the early 1900s, the collection has long been a valuable source of Korean culture and history through the eyes of the first Westerners living and traveling in Korea. Reminiscing, I recall tracking down the volumes of publication in the basement archives at USC and the University of Colorado for my Korea facing historical writing projects. Outside Korea, the complete collection is rarely found all in one location and is typically neglected and in poor condition.

Enhancing the experience is the travel memorabilia décor. This includes several world globes—one thought to be from the World War II era, well-worn travel trunks, and even a prominently displayed old style airport flight board that is synchronized with the modern digital display at Incheon International Airport.

Stepping back for a moment and gazing at the library, I pondered on how this dedicated space to travel actually would connect its visitors to Hyundai Card’s brand image. It is apparent that the company strives to go beyond common perception of what a credit card provider offers its customers. With this in mind, I feel the Library is the perfect platform to showcase the Hyundai Card brand in an original way. Based on my understanding of the brand, I would expect something different and out of the box, visually appealing, and delivered in a very refined design. The Library certainly does match these corporate creative guidelines. For their customers taking advantage of the exclusive service, I feel many would find the Library exceeding expectations not only as a travel resource, but also as a haven in a fast paced urban Seoul.

In a recent Korea Times’ interview, Lee Mee-young, senior vice president of Hyundai Card's Brand Division, shared that the company is also planning a third library in Hannam-dong in northern Seoul. Mr. Lee noted, "The theme for the third library is not fixed yet. But we will put our customers' appetites such as music and food as a top priority when we decide on the next theme.”

Until my next adventure in Seoul, Bon Voyage, or in Korean—An nyeong ha sae yo—go in peace.

About the author Don Southerton
With a life-long interest and a frequent traveler to Korea, Southerton has authored numerous publications and articles centering on the Korean global business. His firm Bridging Culture Worldwide provides strategy, consulting and training to Korea-facing global business, including long time support of the Hyundai Motor Group. His most recent publication is Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed. His current work looks at Korean corporate brand image and direction.


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