All things bright and green

The Japanese capital is beefing up its in-person and hybrid capabilities with the help of technology, while incorporating a robust sustainability ethos in preparation for the return of international events.

The pandemic is still hampering normal business events, but Tokyo is stepping up to meet changing needs and offer innovative and sustainable solutions.

For the past two years, event organisers and hosts have been embracing new operations while continuing to implement rigorous protocols to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Approaches taken include using technology to bring people together more easily and efficiently while keeping them safe.

Tokyo Portcity Takeshiba is an event venue that supports biodiversity in its buildings

“Tokyo has been focusing on promoting Smart City initiatives, and technology such as robots and AI are becoming standard,” said Kana Nomoto, director of sales at Business Events Tokyo, Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau (TCVB).

“Avatar robots, in which meeting participants can log in from their computers and communicate with colleagues onsite, is one way to enhance the delegate experience. The robots make face-to-face networking a lot easier for both online and onsite delegates.”

Telepresence avatar robots made by Japan-based firm iPresence were used during the 9th Union of International Associations’ (UIA) Round Table Asia-Pacific, which was held in hybrid format in October 2021, with TCVB as the local host partner.

The robots allowed participants to move around during coffee breaks and interact with in-person attendees.

Chris Christophers, founder and CEO of iPresence, said this technology offered a “more complete interactivity to remote participants, creating truly hybrid experiences”.

Tokyo-based event facility and organiser Happo-en has also devised ways to improve hybrid events.

In November 2021, the company launched an online event platform called We Room, to enhance communication among digital and in-person attendees. The platform places up to 16 pax on “tables” where they can watch a livestream of the event and communicate with each other at the same time. Digital attendees can move freely among the “tables” to talk and meet others, just as they would do at an in-person event.

Rosa Aldridge, brand communication and design manager at Happo-en, says the platform aims to combine the “real” and “online” worlds and is “a way to provide a new level of flexibility and freedom for event organisers and participants”.

The company has also adopted the use of Servi, a non-contact hospitality system to serve guests food. QR codes on the items presented by the robots contain the names of the dishes and their ingredients. Launched in April 2021, these two new initiatives are part of Happo-en’s Future of Communications Project.

Aldridge explained: “The role of the hospitality industry as business event organisers goes beyond just facilitating gatherings and providing cuisine. We must actively contribute to the building of new relationships, the creation of business opportunities and the fostering of corporate – as well as organisational engagement – through people-to-people interaction.”

With safety still top of mind for the industry, Japan’s technology firms are stepping up too.

In November 2021, Panasonic launched its latest anti-infection technology for use at the entrances and exits of venues. Named Anshin Gate, it measures the participant’s temperature and sanitises their hands and feet simultaneously. A related system tracks the movement and number of participants in the space to predict congestion levels so as to reduce the chances of lines or crowds forming.

Beyond improving in-person and hybrid events, Tokyo’s business events industry is preparing for the future of green events.

Following the 2019 release of Sustainability Guidelines for Business Events in Tokyo, TCVB’s Business Events Tokyo team launched the Sustainability Experience in Tokyo in 2021. The programme offers ideas for international conference organisers that are keen on engaging their delegates in nature, food, crafts and physical activities.

“We are confident that these (sustainability experiences) will make the guests’ stay in Tokyo most satisfying and meaningful,” said Nomoto. “We also hope meeting organisers will make good use of these programmes that aim to contribute to the achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals while offering the opportunity to experience unique activities and be immersed in the traditional culture of Tokyo.”

The guidelines and experiences are part of TCVB’s wider efforts to “raise awareness of the importance of sustainability in the business events industry”, she elaborated.

Firms are heeding the advice. Tokyo’s newest destination marketing organisation, DMO Shiba, Tokyo Bay, is among those with a green mission. Launched in autumn 2021 and covering the areas of Hamamatsucho, Takeshiba and Shibaura, the DMO supports members that have a high level of interest in the environment.

For instance, event facility Tokyo Portcity Takeshiba supports biodiversity in its buildings using onsite rice paddies, vegetable patches, and a beehive. Its Port Hall and Port Studio offer a CO2 Zero MICE Initiative for organisers to replace the electricity used for their event with renewable energy.

Meanwhile, DMO member Waters Takeshiba is restoring the tidal flats along Tokyo Bay where it offers experiences and tours, so visitors can better understand and appreciate the valuable ecosystem there.

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