Shikoku awakens

Anticipating a spike in visitors arriving for the Olympic Games, the island of Shikoku is clamouring for planners to notice its unique event spaces and quaint surrounds too.

A sleepy mountainous island south of Hiroshima, Shikoku is looking to the upcoming Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in May to bring in a stream of events and meetings, with its tourism board and stakeholders gearing up to raise awareness of the island’s many charms.

This comes as the nearing Games are expected to drive up crowd density and hotel prices in Tokyo, a concern that may potentially turn business away from Japan altogether, expressed Tadashi Kaneko, executive vice president, Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO).

Kikugetsu Tei teahouse in Ritsurin Garden

To mitigate this impact, JNTO is focusing on promoting local gems in outlying regions through a 100 Experiences in Japan book. One of such hidden destinations is Shikoku, which comprises four prefectures: Ehime, Kochi, Kagawa and Tokushima.

Rolling out the welcome mat
Kagawa Prefecture’s Takamatsu is one of Shikoku’s main cities that have carved out space for hosting business events and exhibitions.

Located along the Seto Inland Sea, Takamatsu has come to be known for its maritime transportation industry. The city offers planners the Sunport Takamatsu convention centre, which houses a main hall with 1,500 seats, two small halls, 12 meeting rooms, as well as an exhibition space. Recent notable events held here include the 27th National Ambulance-crew Symposium in January 2019 for more than 6,000 pax; the 2018 joint 14th iCACGP Symposium and 15th IGAC Science Conference; and the G7 ICT Ministers’ Meeting in 2016.

Conventional venues are not the only locations of interest in Takamatsu, as the city is populated with historical and cultural facilities available for event use. These include Hiunkaku, the second house of the 12th feudal lord of Takamatsu; outdoor museum and Kabuki theatre Shikoku-Mura at the foot of Mt Yashima; and the scenic Ritsurin Garden, where the conserved Sanuki Guest House and Kikugetsu-tei Teahouse are available for conference and meeting bookings.

The Sanuki Guest House, also known as the Commerce and Industry Promotion Hall, hosted the G7 Summit’s luncheon.

Kagawa Prefectural Government and the Takamatsu City Convention and Visitors Bureau provides financial assistance worth up to 10,000,000 yen (US$91,108) to support incoming conventions and other events.

Kagawa International Hall, the main venue of the G7 ICT Ministers’ Meeting in Takamatsu, Kagawa

A good mix of business and leisure
Meanwhile, the city of Kochi is hoping to leverage its strength as a holiday destination to build up its business event appeal.

Taichiro Oogi, staff, department of inbound tourism, Kochi Visitors & Convention Association, lamented: “We do not have enough facilities, and we have not had any big and international business events yet. Kochi has always been a leisure destination.”

However, Kochi’s leisure appeal makes it ideal as a pre- and post-event destination for corporate groups. Kochi Visitors & Convention Association has collaborated with Singapore-based ABCDE Fitness on a marathoner package that includes flights, accommodation at the new Mont Bell Mountain Lodge, warm-up sessions with a local running group, passes for the Kochi Ryoma Marathon in February 2020, private tours and workshops, and a dinner party with local residents.

Such creative collaborations are essential to attract visitors today, opined Takanori Asai, deputy director, Kochi Representative Office in Singapore.

He expressed: “It has become really hard to promote a destination through traditional means, so we’ve had to come up with new ways to promote Kochi.”

In addition, Taichiro believes that the city would require more promotional efforts and information exchange on the business events front, as well as venue development, before it is able to truly flourish as a business destination.

Thriving connections
Travel to Shikoku is set to become even more accessible, with China Airlines’ flights between Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and Takamatsu Airport recently coming online, and a new highway connecting Kochi Regional Airport and Kochi City currently being constructed.

Meanwhile, for companies with a more relaxed travel policy, or corporate travellers who wish to extend their stay in Japan, one option is a programme offered by All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japanese accommodation provider Address. For a flat monthly fee, this partnership offers applicants unlimited nights in Address properties, which are refurbished homes across Japan, as well as two sets of discounted ANA domestic flight tickets every month.

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