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Japan: thinking big

Japan is already the number one country in Asia for hosting international association meetings. But as James Mowbray reports its ambitions don’t stop there….

According to the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), Japan was ranked joint seventh in the world as a destination for international conferences last year.  It was also the leading country in Asia, having hosted 414 in 2017 – 38 more than regional superpower China.

The country has ambitious plans to grow those numbers, using the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a launch pad. To get an idea of the scale of their ambition, Japan aims to more than double total visitor numbers from 28.69 million in 2017 to a staggering 60 million by 2030 – and attracting a greater share of international association meetings will be an important part of this growth.

When that goal is combined with Japan’s efficient transport infrastructure it makes the country an attractive destination for meetings. Of course, supply must keep up with demand.  That’s why Japan is undergoing a massive centre building programme, with nine new venues to open by 2021.

There is sound fiscal thinking behind this. Japan’s Tourism Agency estimates that international conferences are worth around €4.6bn per annum to the country’s economy.

Although Tokyo, home to almost nine million people, is by far the largest city in Japan, the country has numerous urban centres, with at least a dozen topping the one million mark.

There are numerous smaller cities, too, with excellent meeting infrastructure.

Situated only 75 minutes by plane from Tokyo, Takamatsu city, the capital of Kagawa prefecture on the island of Shikoku, is a good example. This port city – population 420,000 – is a ferry hub for further exploration of the Seto Inland Sea. Kagawa prefecture is famed for its version of udon noodles (known as sanuki udon) and Takamatsu city offers an impressive range of meeting facilities, within both modern and historic buildings.

The main meeting facility, Kagawa International Conference Hall, is part of Sunport Takamatsu, which includes the well-appointed JR Clement Hotel (conveniently located next to JR Takamatsu station). The International Conference Hall and Hotel are able to host meetings for groups ranging from tens up to the thousands. Takamatsu’s must-visit attractions include Ritsurin Gardens. Construction of this sprawling, serene park began in 1625 and took 125 years to complete.

CASE STUDY: ISPIM, Fukuoka

“Protocols need to be observed, but Japan is not ‘difficult’”

The International Society for Professional Innovation Management (ISPIM), is holding an event in Fukuoka in December 2018. Executive director Ian Bitran gives AMI readers the lowdown.

Japan is totally set up for meetings and events. The convention bureaux are extremely professional and understand the needs of meeting planners. They will endeavour to understand your event and connect you with all the right people locally.

“Running a conference in Fukuoka is no more expensive than say Boston, Vienna or Stockholm. As for being difficult, not true. Japan is different. It has tradition and culture and as long as you know this you will find the Japanese very easy to work with. The biggest challenge is understanding the culture. To work in Japan it helps to have a local Destination Management Company who will be able to conduct business the Japanese way. Don’t try to do this yourself as you will fail.

“Protocols need to be observed and traditions respected. Another challenge is language. When dealing with suppliers, you will invariably need to work in Japanese, Again, a DMC will help you here. When speaking with industry and the public sector, you will also need to converse in Japanese. The younger generation and academics are fine with English.

“When you run your events, you may need to have some of the event in Japanese, depending on who is attending. A compromise to simultaneous translation, which is expensive and unpopular is continuous translation or to simply have two sets of slides, in English and in Japanese.”