TOKYO 2020 Legacy: Keeping the flame alive

A chat with Japan Convention Bureau's Etsuko Kawasaki on Games legacy, the changing nature of mega events, and the future of meetings in the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Tokyo 2020 mascots Miraitowa and Someity.
Tokyo 2020 mascots Miraitowa and Someity. Photo Credit:International Olympic Committee

How does the Japan Convention Bureau plan to leverage the Tokyo 2020 Games to attract more international meetings?

The Olympic and Paralympic Games attracted worldwide attention to Japan. The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) took advantage of this opportunity to promote the charm of Japan’s unknown regions overseas. We carried out a wide range of promotional activities focusing on online platforms, such as YouTube, to share videos of the 47 prefectures and introduce famous places along the torchbearer route. We also had our promotional videos broadcast worldwide throughout the period of the Games. These activities have helped expand the appeal of Japan.

At the same time, we seized this opportunity and utilised our network of 22 overseas offices to disseminate information to MICE planners and conference organisers about the appeal of Japan. These include Japan’s safe and secure MICE management, unique venues, special experiences and team building activities that can only be found in Japan.

Japan Convention Bureau's Etsuko Kawasaki
Japan Convention Bureau's Etsuko Kawasaki

Mega events increase a destination’s ‘soft power’ on the global stage. What does the legacy of the Tokyo 2020 Games look like for Japan?

Japan has held many international conferences and MICE events so far, but with the Olympic and Paralympic Games, various improvements have been made in terms of infrastructure and services.

In addition to propelling the creation of barrier-free access to stations, roads and accommodation facilities, new hotels and facilities have opened all over Japan, improving infrastructure and services and spreading the understanding of diversity.

IOC President Thomas Bach with Japan's former Minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Seiko Hashimoto at the opening ceremony.
IOC President Thomas Bach with Japan's former Minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Seiko Hashimoto at the opening ceremony.

In many aspects, Japan has transformed into an accessible country. These legacies will be a great asset for Japan to attract MICE events in the future.

Until now, attention tended to focus on big cities, such as Tokyo and Osaka, but in the wake of the Olympics the whole of Japan has come under the spotlight and its impact has extended to local cities with abundant nature. In the lead-up to the 2025 Osaka Expo, a series of MICE events planned in various parts of Japan will build upon this legacy, creating a sustainable and virtuous cycle.

The Tokyo 2020 Games featured a number of unique challenges, highlighting the renewed importance of public sentiment and remote engagement in a post-pandemic world. What key lessons has the Japan Convention Bureau learnt from this experience?

Due to Covid-19, the Olympic and Paralympic Games had several difficulties before they were held, but various rules and measures were taken to make the Games safe and secure.

Despite the many restrictions over the past year, several events such as exhibitions, sporting events and domestic conferences have been gradually held in various parts of Japan with safety and security measures.

It is worth noting that the 14th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which was held in Kyoto in March prior to the Games, accommodated about 150 overseas participants amidst the constraints of an ‘event bubble’ and the meeting was safely held over the course of a week.

An inclusive, tech-enabled torch relay.
An inclusive, tech-enabled torch relay.

However, preventive measures against Covid-19 which were effective at that moment are likely to become ineffective over time.

Virus mutations, changes in vaccination rates, travel restrictions with other countries, domestic infection control, the evolution of online conference tools — there are many factors at hand which cause rapid changes to the current situation. It will be necessary to constantly collect and update reliable information, and select the best method according to the regulations and rules at that time to hold an event in the optimal form.

As a result, MICE organisers will need to build organisational structure that can adapt to this ever-increasing speed of change.

We will also further strengthen cooperation with local governments convention bureaus, PCOs, university institutions, etc., and support event management that can respond to change.

How is the Japan Convention Bureau supporting regional and international MICE recovery efforts?

Due to the pandemic, the format of international conferences has evolved. This is a demanding period that requires the timely sharing of information. At JNTO, we utilise our in-market offices to listen to and aggregate local voices daily, collect direct opinions about what international meeting planners are looking for, and share with our local governments and convention bureaus.

Currently, we are working on incentive travel itineraries that highlight regional areas across the country, and we plan to announce selected programme proposals in November. Japan is blessed with abundant nature and cultural heritage, and we have created attractive programmes for each region that meet diverse needs.

We are also preparing a new virtual tour to introduce 10 cities to international conference organisers, and we’re developing close ties with IAPCO (the International Association of Professional Conference Organisers).

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