Leads return to Japan

EVENT negotiations that were put on hold following the triple-whammy Japan disaster are being restarted, with new enquiries from planners trickling in slowly but surely, according to Japanese MICE officials.

Chiba Convention Bureau and International Centre’s convention division manager, Takeo Katsura, said: “We are starting to see new enquiries coming in from international convention organisers and, with Tokyo Disneyland slated to reopen on April 15, Chiba and the surrounding Japanese cities can expect to see a stronger return in business.”

The theme park closed when visitor numbers dwindled after the tsunami.

International conferences with large numbers of delegates are carrying on, including the 1,400-pax Academy of International Business Annual Meeting in Nagoya in June, a 10,000-pax microbiology conference in Sapporo in September, and the 8,000-pax International Union of Architects in Tokyo in September.

Large conferences may be a challenge to move and are thus staying put, but Japan is also seeing interest returning for smaller meetings. JTB Okinawa said it would be receiving a 200-pax meeting group from Hong Kong spending two nights in Okinawa, about 1,775km away from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, next month.

The agency’s inbound general manager, Toshihide Ozaki, said: “We are also answering three RFPs from major travel agencies in Singapore and Bangkok. Although these are for leisure groups, such interest reflects confidence in Okinawa and we hope more enquiries for meetings and incentives will follow soon.”

Japan Convention Bureau executive director Kaneyuki Ono believes Japan’s recovery will be swift if only MICE planners understood the geography of Japan. He said: “Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima, for instance, are far from the affected areas of Sendai and the north-eastern coast. MICE venues, hotels and attractions are functioning normally.”

Kevin Mead, president & CEO of IGAF Polaris, an association for accountants that organises 40 to 50 events globally each year, said high prices rather than a nuclear scare were what kept his meetings away from Japan.

“We know that Japan will resolve the nuclear matter eventually. Instead, it is the appreciation of the Japanese yen against the US dollar that is keeping us away. Japan is expensive compared to other destinations in Asia. You would think that now is the perfect time to take your events to Japan since demand is down and prices will be cut. That has not happened.”

Kip Horton, president, international division, HPN Global, sees a bright outcome. “There will be meetings on atomic energy and others related to the rebuilding of the country,” Horton said.

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