Japan winning the bid to host the 2020 Olympics is an encouragement to its government and relevant stakeholders, as the recovered nation aims for an even larger share of MICE business.

If 2012 was ever considered a premature celebration of Japan’s swift recovery from the natural disasters the year before, 2013 would definitely be a year to remember. The country’s tireless efforts to ensure it was back in the pink of health proved successful when Tokyo won the bid to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) Ryoichi Matsuyama called the victory an encouragement to JNTO and “other organisations engaged with Japan’s inbound tourist businesses who are working together with an aim to attract 20 million visitors to Japan” by 2020.
One of JNTO’s priorities in the seven-year lead-up is to bolster Japan’s reputation as a meetings destination, president Ryoichi added.

Japan is already confirmed as one of the world’s leading international association meeting destinations, with ICCA’s 2013 survey placing the destination in eighth place globally and first in Asia Pacific. With 341 qualifying meetings hosted, Japan has successfully returned to the top 10 after natural disasters in 2011 caused a drop to 13th place in the same survey that year. Cities Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukuoka and Kobe have also been listed among the top 100 global cities for association meetings.

Noteworthy events in 2012 include the 3500-pax Société Internationale d’Urologie Congress in Fukuoka, 10,000-pax Annual Meeting of the Boards of Governors of the International Monetary Fund & the World Bank in Tokyo, and the 6300-pax Annual SWIFT Conference and Exhibition (SIBOS) in Osaka.

Yokohama has been faring well in securing healthcare congresses for the next few years. Home to 28 universities and major medical and scientific research centres, the Japanese government has designated Japan’s second-largest city as a centre for innovation in science and technology, encouraging international association and meeting planners to host events there for added value.
Edging out regional competitors, the Asian-Pacific Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association Regional Congress went to Yokohama in a majority vote against Indonesia for its 2017 event, while The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer also picked the destination as the host for its 2017 World Conference on Lung Cancer.
On an earlier note, the International Stereotactic Radiosurgery Society will be hosting its 12th congress in 2015 at PACIFICO Yokohama, Japan’s largest convention centre and Yokohama’s flagship facility. Tokyo Women’s Medical University and Local Organising Committee Dr Motohiro Hayashi believed Yokohama secured the bid over Hong Kong due to the promise of holding the congress with other related meetings to increase the number of attendees.

Japan’s quick recovery from the earthquake and tsunami also gave the destination a living knowledge of tackling the dangers of radiology from nuclear plants, Dr Hayashi added.

Mice ready

To compete for a greater share of MICE, the Japan Tourism Agency has given cities Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, Kobe and Fukuoka a “Global MICE City” status to kick off support initiatives in market research, strategy making, promotional efforts and seminars organised for local stakeholders. Japan has also appointed Congress Ambassadors across the country in 2013, who come from key academic and research sectors and act as advocates for Japan within their respective fields, and serve as media liaison and mentors to other colleagues in Japan to lend bidding and organisational expertise.
Opportunities are aplenty for Japan at a time where countries have started to loosen visa regulations to facilitate MICE-related travel. Thailand, for example, introduced a special “Thai Year” initiative that saw a visa waiver regulation for Thai visitors to visit Japan, while Thai Airways International offered special air fares and new flights to Sapporo.
New air routes are expected to ease domestic travel for MICE travellers. Peach Aviation now connects Osaka to Sendai, and Osaka to Ishigaki Airport, while new flights from Osaka to Busan, South Korea have also been launched. Jetstar Japan introduced five new routes: Nagoya to Fukuoka; Nagoya to Sapporo; Tokyo to Oita; Nagoya to Kagoshima; and Tokyo to Kagoshima.

With a new airport able to handle long-haul flights, the island of Ishigaki is able to welcome direct flights from Taiwan and South Korea, while routes to China and Hong Kong are now possible. Catering to the ever-discerning tastes of MICE planners, new venues have been introduced to Japan’s existing portfolio of facilities. In Tokyo, high-rise landmark JP TOWER offers a new meeting space featuring usable halls of up to 600sqm, two conference spaces and six meeting rooms. Directly connected to Tokyo Station through an underground passage, JP TOWER has a tourist and business centre providing in-depth information, ticketing, a café and performance space.

Keeping up with expectations, the Kobe International Conference Center will begin major renovation works in 2017, while the Kobe Portopia Hotel is developing in-house professional conference organiser (PCO) capabilities.

On the Osaka front, a shopping, business and entertainment complex opened this year outside JR Osaka Station. Grand Front Osaka is a friendly addition to the city’s existing MICE offerings, with 266 shops and restaurants, a 3000-pax convention centre, and InterContinental Osaka with four banquet and meeting spaces.
New hotels are planning to open in the next two years, including The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto, Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto, Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel, Aman Tokyo, Andaz Tokyo, Hilton Okinawa Chatan, and Hoshinoya Fuji.

Asia friendly

Japan enjoyed a 22.4 per cent increase in the number of foreign visitors from January to September 2013, of which Southeast Asian visitors saw the most significant rise while Mainland Chinese figures dwindled due to the Senkaku islands dispute. According to a JNTO spokesperson, Japan remains popular amongst Korean and Taiwanese groups, but is also starting to receive more groups from Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

With ASEAN in mind, Japan is working to relax its visa guidelines, or offer exemptions for visitors from the region. Local governments have started comprehensive studies to develop large-scale integrated resorts, which are popular due to the business-leisure offerings. As plans are under way to reach out to the global marketplace, some initiatives include some hotels and restaurants providing Muslim-friendly options, English signage, Wi-Fi access, and international ATMs.