Sparks fly as government plans to shut Tokyo Big Sight for 2020 Games

Japan’s exhibitions industry has reacted with fury and incredulity at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s decision to close Tokyo Big Sight for seven months to use it as the international media centre before and during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The industry says the decision means the largest purpose-built venue of its kind in the city will be unavailable for exhibitions between April and October 2020, forcing the cancellation or significant down-sizing of 170 exhibitions to be held at Tokyo Big Sight during the seven-month period.

Tokyo Big Sight

This will cause an estimated 1.3 trillion yen (US$11.39 billion) in damages, with exhibitors losing out 1.2 trillion yen and service companies forfeiting some 100 billion yen.

The decision by the city government – which owns Tokyo Big Sight – also threatens the survival of 38,000 SME exhibitors that rely on events for a large portion of their annual revenue.

Most worrying, the exhibitions industry says, is the high possibility that exhibitions that have been Tokyo stalwarts for many years will go elsewhere in Asia and not return in the future.

“We organise Comiket, the largest manga and anime event in Japan, at Tokyo Big Sight every August and many of the companies that take part rely on that exhibition for as much as 50 per cent of their annual revenue,” Hajime Okada, president of Hiroshima-based publisher Eikou, told TTGmice e-Weekly in an interview.

“To not be able to use the venue for seven months is going to be absolutely devastating to these companies,” he said.

Tad Ishizumi, chairman of the Japan Exhibition Association, said the Tokyo government’s decision was as brutal as the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which had hit the business events industry just as hard as exhibitors and visitors stayed away from the country.

Ishizumi said: “Even when exhibitions were cancelled for just one month in 2011, many companies were on the verge of bankruptcy. Imagine what the impact will be if Tokyo Big Sight is unavailable for seven months.”

“In Rio de Janeiro, London and Beijing, no exhibitions had to be scaled back or cancelled entirely (during the Games),” he pointed out.

And while a suggestion for a temporary facility is welcomed, the proposal is only for a venue one-quarter the size of Tokyo Big Sight, Ishizumi revealed.

A metropolitan government spokesman told TTGmice e-Weekly that a 23,000m2 replacement facility will be made available close to Tokyo Big Sight between April 2019 and November 2020, but declined to respond to other questions.

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