Shifting the MICE gear up a notch

As Japan’s most southern island chain continues its tourism boom, Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau MICE director, Kimiyo Uechi, delves into how much its incentive business has grown, and relays plans on how to capture more meetings moving forward

What trends have you seen in Okinawa in recent years?
Okinawa used to be all about enjoyment. Business events focused on incentive trips to resorts. Now companies want incentive packages that enhance loyalty and improve communication. We, therefore, made a listing of unique venues that both inspire and motivate, and created a programme of special experiences utilising Okinawa’s beautiful nature and culture. These and more can be found at our website.

In the past, planners wanted to use international hotel brands that they knew but there were few, and local hotels were not chosen. Now we have more international brands and agents have been successful in recommending Okinawan hotels, too.

How is Okinawa performing in the business events space?
The number of business events is increasing year on year. In particular, the market for incentives is very strong, thanks to the island’s plentiful resorts and good reputation for ease of hosting. Growth in incentives looks set to continue and we are also seeing a rise in the number of conventions.

There are many reasons for the growing popularity. Visitors come to have an extraordinary time, to be in nature and experience unique history and culture. Also, their stay is stress-free and comfortable, thanks to renowned Japanese hospitality. There are many international and domestic flights, as well as high-quality facilities and support for MICE events.

What steps are you taking to build on the growing demand?
We’re working to show that Okinawa is not only ideal for incentives, but for other business events too. Our biggest market is domestic, followed by Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and South Korea. We’re using our Okinawa offices in Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore for promotion.

We’re working to attract global companies from both Asia and Europe. For European destinations with no direct flight to Okinawa, we are promoting tie-ups with Tokyo and Osaka. Visitors spend time there before coming to Okinawa for an incentive trip or a business meeting.

In terms of support, we’ve made packages for incentives and conventions from both short- and longhaul destinations. From April 2019 to March 2020, for example, groups from overseas can enjoy an airport welcome banner, an Awamori (Okinawa liquor) tasting booth and event attendance by Miss Okinawa. We also have travel subsidies, as well as discounts on chartered buses and selected conference facilities.

What strategies are you implementing to push business events?
In 2017, the local government launched a 10-year MICE development strategy for the Okinawa archipelago that we are working to deliver. We are marketing to planners and developing a support system to host seminars and help businesses make new products. We are also creating a MICE network through which they can easily operate. As part of this strategy, we have divided Okinawa into five areas, each with different characteristics, so that buyers can more easily understand what the island can offer.

What challenges do you face in these efforts and how are you tackling them?
Flight and hotel room capacity is a challenge, depending on the season. In July and August, we have found it hard to accommodate business events due to the number of tourists, but a new runway will open in March and we are seeing more flights and hotels opened. We are also welcoming more MICE groups in the offseason period, such as April, May, June and October.

Okinawa still has the image of a resort destination so we want to show that it’s a place where you can do business, too. That’s why we launched a new tagline, “Where inspiration meets,” and a new logo to represent the Okinawa archipelago and the discussion that can be sparked in Okinawa at business events.

Why is further growth in business events so important for Okinawa?
Our MICE market is small, but it is expanding. Okinawa’s location in the centre of East Asia is encouraging growth in various markets, which is attracting information, products, services and people to Okinawa from around the world. If this continues, it will boost businesses and the local economy.

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