Shaping a city’s events future

Hiroshima is putting its dark history behind and stepping forth with a sharp suit to attract major business events

Miyajima Island’s floating torii gate

Regional cities in Japan with a compelling tale to tell, the facilities to host major events and the desire to build up their business events sector are reaching out to organisations and planners that are open to the idea of alternative host cities.

And Hiroshima – best known around the world for its dark history – is leading the charge, with the aim of building a brighter economic future with the help of the business events sector.

Miyajima Island’s floating torii gate

“After Hiroshima was devastated by the atomic bomb in 1945, people said that no plants would grow here for the next 75 years,” Akemi Sakaguchi, spokesperson of Hiroshima Convention & Visitors Bureau’s promotion department told TTGmice.

“But Hiroshima has achieved remarkable development, thanks to local businesses such as Mazda Motor that have contributed to the city’s prosperity.

“Hiroshima’s position as an international city of peace and culture was further enhanced in 2016, when then-president Barack Obama – who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons – became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima,” she elaborated.

Events that Hiroshima has staged since then include the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in April 2016; a 900-pax 25th International Congress on Sound and Vibration in July 2018; and the One World, Many Voices: Science and Community that drew 604 delegates, also in July 2018.

But the city has ambitions for larger events, and will test its mettle this coming November when 10,000 people are scheduled to take part in the 58th Orient and South-east Asian Lions Forum.

To prepare itself for more business events, Hiroshima has created four distinct convention zones, which can be utilised in isolation or combined for larger events.

The Peace Memorial Park Zone brings together the International Conference Center Hiroshima, Hiroshima City Cultural Exchange Hall, and JMS Aster Plaza; while the adjacent Kamiyacho Zone covers the Hiroshima Prefectural Sports Center, Rihga Royal Hotel Hiroshima, NTT Cred Hall, and Hotel Mielparque Hiroshima.

Next, the Hiroshima Station Peripheral Zone includes the Hiroshima Convention Hall, Hotel Granvia Hiroshima, Sheraton Grand Hiroshima Hotel, and Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association Hall. The Grand Prince Hotel Hiroshima makes up the final designated area, the Retreat Meeting Venue.

Takefumi Yoshida of the city’s MICE Strategy Division, shared that the sector is working hard to “raise the profile of Hiroshima at domestic and international trade fairs, (and)reaching out directly to academic organisations and through the nation’s MICE ambassadors.”

Sakaguchi added that Hiroshima is the “ideal destination for MICE events because it can encourage solutions to problems and promote research”.

The city is also promoting individual venues and post-conference attractions and facilities. These include 12 unique venues within the Hiroshima Regional Urban Area, including art galleries, traditional Japanese gardens and temples. Similarly, the A-Bomb Dome and Itsukushima Shrine, on the nearby island of Miyajima, are both UNESCO-recognised sites and consistently in TripAdvisor’s top three must-see sites in Japan.

James Kent of Tokyo-based DMC The J-Team, said an event in a regional city like Hiroshima would give visitors to Japan a better sense of what the country was like before mass international tourism arguably took away from the experience at some of Kyoto’s most famous sights, for example.

“One of the joys of (organising) MICE events in Japan in 2005 and before was the fact that business events could interact with experts in its field that are from Japan and the chosen event destination,” Kent said. “Put simply, the event could be somewhere truly Japanese, and truly focused on the destination.”

Hiroshima still needs to add hotel accommodation, preferably at the higher end of the spectrum, Kent opined, while business events would also appreciate opportunities to interact with some of the companies that have a presence in the city.
But Kent believes that the outlook for a city with a globally known history and a commitment to improving its offerings is positive.

“Getting off the Golden Route allows this situation to still be true in 2019,” Kent added. “And it allows the investment of coming to Japan (to yield) a high return, by exposing participants to what they have come to experience – interaction with and learning from Japanese expertise and culture, both traditional and modern.

“Despite being home to one of the world’s megacities in Tokyo, and despite the accepted wisdom that Kyoto is the spring from which all Japanese culture flows, the essence of Japan is very much in its provincial and rural communities where cooperation, collaboration, mindfulness and sustainable living – all the big words in global society today – continue to be the sinews of Japan’s famed communal strength,” Kent elaborated.

“These are the communities that grow the rice that fuels the cities and provide MICE events with exquisite sake-tasting experiences.”

As Matsuo Basho, Japan’s own Shakespeare, so beautifully put it, the true essence of Japan, and the true learnings about Japanese people, society and culture, really are to be found in abundance on The Narrow Road to the Interior (a travel diary of linked prose and haiku), and away from the Golden Route.

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