A strong life sciences industry and attention to environmental issues have made port city Yokohama a hit with related associations for meetings. By Karen Yue
Yokohama, the capital city of Kanagawa Prefecture and the commercial hub of the Greater Tokyo Area, has enjoyed several years of good business in the associations congress sector.
In 2012, Yokohama hosted several massive international meetings such as the Annual Meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (3,500 delegates), and the 4th Congress of the World Union of Wound Healing Societies (3,000 delegates). The same year also saw the city winning a number of high-profile meetings like the Goldschmidt Conference (2016), Biennial Congress of the Asian-Pacific Hepato-Pancreato Biliary Association (2017) and the International Orthodontic Congress (2020).
Yokohama’s congress fortunes flowed into 2013, when it hosted major international meetings like the 28th International Chemotherapy and Infection (1,500 attendees) in June, and the 2013 IDF World Dairy Summit (2,200 delegates) in October.
A spokesperson with Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau (YCVB) told TTGmice that 2014 would be another good year.
“We had some major meetings this year too, like the 16th International Congress of the World Federation of Occupational Therapists in June and the XVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology in July,” the spokesperson revealed.
Both events attracted about 5,000 delegates to the populous port city.
Eager to further grow its crop of association congress wins, YCVB last year developed a new brand and tagline – Japan’s First Port of Call – to better reflect its status as a destination for conventions.
The spokesperson said: “This is meant to convey the message that one of Yokohama’s characteristics is that we are the first in many ways.
“From being the first Japanese port to open up (to the world in 1859), to hosting first-in-Asia congresses, and the first in innovation and research and development, our ‘can-do’ approach has made Yokohama Japan’s first port of call. For international meeting organisers who want to bring their events to Yokohama, YCVB is their first port of call as we are a full-service bureau.”
The new brand is reflected in a logo that uses a Japanese nami pattern, representing waves and reinforcing Yokohama’s status as a harbour city that is open and dynamic, and at the same time offering Japanese tradition, hospitality and efficiency. A key image, capturing the port and the main convention area was also created.
The new branding and tagline is aimed at international and regional associations, with a focus on life sciences, environment, medical, IT and biotechnology industries.
“In 2013, we applied the new branding to our new website, sales collateral and promotional video. This year we will go further in promoting our city in the associations market,” the spokesperson added.
She shared that Yokohama is especially keen to attract associations related to life sciences and the environment.
Explaning the importance of the life sciences industry to the destination, she said: “Yokohama was designated Life Innovation Special Zone (Comprehensive International Strategic Zone for the Life Sciences) by the national government, and has four main areas where bio-science research and development (facilities and companies) are concentrated.
“We have many (research and development facilities) and universities, so meeting planners will find (a ready pool of) enthusiastic local delegates and suppliers wanting to attend medical meetings.”
Yokohama Bio Industry Center and the Advanced Medical Research Center are good examples of city-private sector collaboration. The head of the Advanced Medical Research Center was involved in the 12th Annual World Congress of the Human Proteome Organization in September last year. The event drew 1,500 researchers on human proteome to Yokohama.
“Yokohama is also keen on environmental issues. It has been designated Future Environmental City by the national government since 2011. The city aims to create and promote solutions for a variety of social issues related to the environment,” she said, adding that this direction has led to the creation of Yokohama Green Valley, Yokohama Eco School and a global network that supports Asian nations in environmental matters.
Yokohama’s strong support in this area earned it the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes, which was held in March this year.
The spokesperson explained that association meetings can benefit from a strong local attendance due to a “large and active Japanese society” in various industries.
“And because of the availability of Japanese experts in many fields, excellent content is promised at meetings held here. Proximity to China and South Korea also means good turnout from these two countries, making it a more attractive meeting,” she added.
Associations that bring their congresses to Yokohama will also enjoy certain support from the city and YCVB. The city offers financial help to international meetings of over 1,000 delegates, while YCVB provides in-kind support that varies according to the percentage of international attendees.
Yokohama’s track record of welcoming large-scale congresses is sufficient proof of its MICE capability. PACIFICO Yokohama is the city’s main convention complex, featuring a 1,350m2 Annex Hall, a 20,000m2 Exhibition Hall, a 1,004-seat Conference Center, a 5,002-seat National Convention Hall and a selection of outdoor spaces. It is also connected to the 600-room InterContinental Yokohama Grand hotel. It held 100 international association meetings in 2013.
Meeting planners can also utilise function rooms in business hotels across the city.
Maiko Hiraoka, spokesperson for The Yokohama Bay Hotel Tokyu, said her hotel was often used when massive events required more venues than what PACIFICO could offer.
The city is supported by over 14,000 hotel rooms. While no new hotels are coming up, congress delegates can look forward to refreshed stays over the next few years. InterContinental Yokohama Grand hotel will refurbish 90 per cent of rooms this year and renovate its 100 suites in 2015. Hotel New Grand, a five-star property, will add a terrace to its renewed banquet room, giving event guests clear views of Yokohama Bay.
In terms of international air access, Yokohama is served by two international airports – Narita and Haneda.
The YCVB spokesperson shared that Haneda Airport will raise its number of arrivals/departures this year from six million per year to nine. Among the new air services are All Nippon Airways’ (ANA) flights to Vancouver, Hanoi and Munich from March. Additional frequency to/from London, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila will come too.
At Narita International Airport, ANA commenced new services to/from Düsseldorf in March while the number of LCCs serving the airport is growing.
Despite the heavy tourist footfalls and benefits to the local economy and related industries that come with congresses, this segment of business events is “not top of mind” for many local MICE suppliers.
The “long period it takes from bid win to the event actually taking place” is one of the reasons, said the spokesperson, who added that domestic meetings and weddings are “big business in Japan”.
Yoko Ueda, sales manager of Yokohama Royal Park Hotel, told TTGmice that association meetings made up less than five per cent of the hotel’s total events business and numbers had not grown significantly in recent years.
“We are keen on marketing to this segment but we have a budget issue for promotions. We tend to chase the domestic meetings market which is very strong and reliable (and) work with YCVB (for international association meetings) instead, as it has an overseas network,” Ueda said.
To get local stakeholders to be more active in courting international association events, YCVB formed the MICE Experts Consortium with 50 local suppliers and holds meetings regularly to discuss the issues Yokohama needs to address in order to win more business.
The bureau’s spokesperson added: “YCVB endeavours to illustrate to its supplier community the beyond-tourism impact of hosting such meetings. In February, YCVB invited GainingEdge’s Mike Williams to share international case studies on (such) benefits at a half-day symposium.”
Jordan Takako Kurosawa, director of international sales & marketing at PACIFICO, agrees that hosting international association meetings brings benefits beyond that of tourism earnings.
“They provide opportunities for local businesses, researchers and institutes to interact with top leaders and experts in the field, and help incubate local business/academic research by adapting the latest trends and studies published during these meetings,” she opined.
PACIFICO is looking to grow its business contribution from this segment of events, from the current eight to 10 per cent to 10-15 per cent by 2015.
“We plan to have more sales and promotions in Europe and North America, markets that are not yet familiar with Yokohama being an association meeting destination. We will exhibit at major trade shows like IMEX, IMEX America or EIBTM with YCVB,” Kurosawa said.
Need to know
Take a walk in the park
Yokohama is not all concrete buildings. The Sankeien Gardens shows a different, serene side of the big city, with traditional Japanese houses and architecture, manicured gardens, a pond and small streams setting the scene of ancient Japan. Open to the public since 1904, Sankeien Gardens is most beautiful in autumn and spring. It is illuminated at night during the cherry blossom season, which falls around late-March/early-April.
The garden is open daily from 09.00 to 17.00; last admission at 16.30. Visit www.sankeien.or.jp for more information.
Get connected for free
NTT East is offering free Wi-Fi access to overseas visitors in Yokohama. To enjoy the complimentary connection, visitors need to present their passports at designated counters located across the city and collect a Wi-Fi card with user ID and password, or download the free app, NAVITIME for Japan Travel, onto their smartphones ahead of their travel.
Free Wi-Fi access is available for 14 days from the day of registration, at specific Wi-Fi hotspots.
More details can be found at www.yokohamajapan.com/about/free-wi-fi-service-overseas-tourists-visit-yokohama-2/.
Meet and stay at a new Best Western property
Opened in May, Best Western Yokohama sits in the Tsurumi ward of the port city, close to the bay area, and is easily accessible from the JR Yokohama and JR Shinagawa stations.
It appeals to meeting planners with its 100m2 meeting room, a space good for events with up to 60 delegates.
Guests can choose from single, double, twin and triple options, with all of Best Western Yokohama’s 185 rooms equipped with flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi.
Explore Yokohama’s factories
Yokohama is home to several prominent manufacturers such as Nissan Motor Corporation, Kirin Brewery and FANCL, and educational factory tours can be arranged with the help of the Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Hands-on experiences are often included in these factory tours. At Kirin Brewery, for example, visitors can take part in a beer-making class and learn what are the ingredients needed to make a good brew, and understand the various necessary processes such as fermentation and aging.
Corporate groups can also enjoy guided tours of specialty museums such as the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum, where an expert will explain the history and culture behind this familiar noodle dish; and the Silk Museum, where delegates can join a loom weaving workshop and other activities.
Contact Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau at (81-45) 221-2111 for a full list of industrial tours available to corporate groups.
Cup noodle paradise
Anyone who appreciates the convenience of cup noodles will enjoy a visit to the interactive Cup Noodle Museum in Yokohama. Exhibits lead visitors into the mind of Momofuku Ando, inventor of the world’s first cup noodle and founder of Nissin Food Products, and showcase the astounding variety of cup noodles that have been created through the years. Visitors can also make their own cup noodles at the Chicken Ramen Factory and the My CUPNOODLE Factory.
Visit www.cupnoodles-museum.jp for more information.
Free your mind
Yokohama’s Sojiji Temple, regarded as one of the most important Zen Buddhism temples in Japan, features a collection of traditional Buddhist architecture and boasts a serene environment.
Visitors to the temple are invited to pariticpate in zazen meditation sessions, conducted in English.
If meditation is not quite your cup of tea, strolling through the temple and its gardens will be refreshing enough for hurried city dwellers.
Visit sojiji.jp/zenen/sanpai/zazen-english.html for more information.