India, Middle East on Okinawa’s radar

THE OKINAWA Convention & Visitors Bureau (OCVB) has kicked off market research on India and the Middle East, in hopes of eventually grooming these into key MICE and leisure tourism sources.

Sen Tamaki, OCVB overseas marketing section manager, said: “India has a huge population, and its birth rate is very high – much more than that of China which has a birth control policy. In 10 to 20 years’ time, these children, many of whom will come from well-to-do families, will be educated adults. They will travel the world and we must draw them to Okinawa, whether for leisure or for business.”

He added: “The Middle East is a huge outbound tourism market now, although not yet for Okinawa. However, the prefecture government has instructed the tourism board to pay close attention to the Middle East, and we are in the midst of studying the needs of Middle Eastern travellers.”

Tamaki believes that Okinawa will have to pay particular attention to the diet of Indian and Middle Eastern travellers if the destination wants to succeed in these markets.

He said: “Our studies so far have shown that (familiar cuisine) is very important to these travellers. Muslim travellers, in particular, need Halal food, and unfortunately there are very few Halal restaurants in Okinawa. We’ve conveyed our findings to the tourism suppliers in Okinawa, and it is up to them make use of it to draw these potential source markets.”

KPG Hotels & Resort’s Kafuu Resort Fuchaku Condo-Hotel and Tokyo Dai-ichi Hotel Okinawa Grand Mer Resort, both in Okinawa, are among the few hotels that have started to offer Halal dining options.

Carl Bastian, a representative of the hotel chain’s international sales division, said: “We are able to tailor a Halal menu for corporate groups with Muslim delegates, and also allocate a function room to serve as a prayer room.

“Halal food is pricey in Okinawa because options are few and this is a speciality. We want to offer affordable Halal dining arrangements. In fact, our Halal dining options are priced a third of what other hotels or restaurants are charging.”

To demonstrate its Halal dining capability, the five-star Kafuu Resort Fuchaku Condo-Hotel hosted 13 buyers from Singapore and Malaysia during the recently concluded Okinawa MICE Project for lunch in a seaview function room, presenting a main course of grilled chicken and a buffet selection of Thai green curry, grilled local vegetables, salad, fruits and juice. Bastian said the arrangement cost “about JPY3,000 (US$38) per pax”.

The resort’s international marketing chief, Lina Takahashi, said: “There is a huge Muslim travel market, not just travellers from the Middle East, but few dare to venture to new destinations because of dietary limitations. Our kitchens may not be Halal-certified, but what we have done is to have our chefs trained in Halal cooking practices, and to obtain our food supplies from Halal-certified companies.”

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