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WOOING GLOBAL GATHERINGS

The art of angling for conventions

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

It used to be that pouring cash into public works projects was deemed the best way to kick-start an ailing economy. Those days are long gone. Now the government is more bent on cutting spending to ease the bloated national debt.

In its quest for other ways to stimulate the economy, the government has been looking for ways for Japan to play host to major global gatherings, which not only provide economic ripple effects via the thousands who participate but also serve to burnish the nation’s image.

Following is a look at the impact of international conventions and strategies for hosting them:

What is the economic effect of hosting an international convention?

The Japan Tourism Agency said holding an international gathering of 10,000 participants translates into some ¥3.8 billion in ripple effects and generates about ¥160 million in tax revenue.

In fiscal 2007, international conventions and meetings held in the Pacifico Yokohama convention center generated about ¥69 billion for the city, the JTA said.

When Tokyo hosted the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group last month, more than 20,000 overseas delegates, business leaders and media members converged on the capital.

The Marunouchi and Ginza districts, both close to the main venue, held special events for the delegates to promote Japanese culture and products. Many also visited key installations, including Panasonic Corp.’s technology hub and a Tokyo water purification plant, to view state-of-the-art technology.

Kinya Tokuhiro, director for projects promotion in the tourism division at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, said a big convention like the IMF meeting draws global attention to Tokyo.

“If we have a successful meeting, it raises Tokyo’s international presence and strengthens our competitiveness for hosting more conventions,” he said.

The IMF meeting was initially to be held in Egypt, but the unstable political situation there led to the change of venue.

How does Japan rank?

The nation’s ranking basically depends on how international conventions are defined.

Statistics from the Brussels-based Union of International Associations ranked Japan as second in 2010, while Tokyo was seventh among large metropolitan areas.

Most events counted in the UIA ranking are organized by either a nongovernmental or intergovernmental organization and involve at least 50 participants.

On the other hand, the Holland-based International Congress and Convention Association ranked Japan in seventh place and Tokyo at 23rd. The ICCA rankings are based on the number of international conventions held on a regular basis with at least 50 participants and hosted by at least three countries, meaning a one-time event doesn’t count.

Besides Tokyo, what other cities in Japan are popular for hosting conventions?

Data from the Japan National Tourism Organization for 2010 ranked Fukuoka as second with 216 meetings and Yokohama third with 174. Other cities that attract gatherings include Kyoto, Nagoya, Kobe, Sapporo and Osaka.

Fukuoka boasts good accessibility, both by sea and other forms of transport, including a number of direct flights to major Asian cities. It also has a concentration of major hotels and convention centers within a 2.5-km radius, according to the Fukuoka Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The JNTO statistics also show that 51.1 percent of the meetings held in 2010 pertained to science, technology or nature. Medical-related meetings came next, at 16.5 percent.

How are host venues chosen?

There is no one-size-fits-all stencil, as conventions range from summits to academic conferences.

For example, if cancer specialists want to hold a convention, members of domestic cancer-related groups would get together and launch a campaign.

Prefectural or municipal authorities, or local-level convention bureaus, may get involved if they see great potential in attracting overseas visitors with big wallets and a propensity to spend.

A JNTO manual for hosting international conventions notes it is crucial to fully understand how the decision-making process works and if those involved in selecting venues are familiar with Japan.

Is the competition with other countries and cities getting tougher?

Beijing, Seoul and Singapore, have become tougher competitors, according to the Japan Tourism Agency and Tokyo Metropolitan Government officials.

The number of international meetings in Asia is on the increase due to the region’s growing economies. This has boosted the number of international conferences in Japan as well in the past several years, except for 2011, when the Great East Japan Earthquake put a damper on everything.

But Japan needs to step up its effort if it wants to keep up with the growing momentum in other parts of Asia, experts say.

According to the 2010 ranking disclosed by ICCA, Singapore placed fifth, Beijing 12th and Seoul 16th, while Tokyo was 27th.

Costs tend to run higher in Tokyo than rival cities, a major disadvantage, Tokuhiro of Tokyo Metropolitan Government said.

Tokyo has been subsidizing organizers who try to host conventions that can bring big economic effects.

Tokyo’s strength is its capability to smoothly execute events, Tokuhiro said, adding that the IMF meeting went off without a hitch despite the short preparation time, earning international praise.

When did Japan start putting efforts into hosting international conventions?

Japan geared up its efforts in 2006 when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to increase the number of international conventions by at least 50 percent by 2011 from the 2005 level.

The goal was part of the government’s MICE (meeting, incentive, convention, exhibition) campaign. Other than conventions, the country also wants to attract foreign visitors for business meetings, incentive travel and exhibitions.

After the 2006 goal was met in 2011, with the number of conventions rising from 168 to 309, the government came up with a new target in March to increase that number by 50 percent over the next five years.

What measures must the government take to be more competitive?

Tokuhiro of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said more people need to be trained to promote large-scale events.

To this end, Tokyo Metropolitan University held open-campus seminars this year on how to stage such promotions, said Tokuhiro.

More elaborate marketing strategies are also needed, according to a Japan Tourism Agency official who asked not to be named.

Other parts of Asia have been engaged in strategic marketing and have reinforced their competitiveness, thereby succeeding in attracting conventions.

Singapore, for example, provides funding and other means of support for hosting international conventions dealing with industries the government wants to promote.

Japan has been slow in introducing such strategies, the official said. For starters, Japan needs to collect more detailed statistics and data in relation to international events to clarify the nation’s strengths and weaknesses, he said, adding that only then can strategic marketing come into play.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp