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Japan, a Global Crossroads

Japan, a Global Crossroads

By Shinsuke Asai

01The past record of Shinsuke Asai, the President of MPI Japan, as one of the most dominant industry leaders in Japan clearly shows his role in bridging between American business and Japanese business in the MICE industry. In this regard he has displayed a unique capacity to build trust and understanding for people from both sides of the ocean. He has mentored many leaders in meeting business, and is a living legend in the industry. “We can be taught from a textbook about science, engineering, transportation and a host of other enterprises and activities. However, leadership, values, integrity-centered behavior and relationships these are communicated and taught by those who exhibit them person to person” Asai argues.
The Global MICE Insight has invited this iconic leader in Japan’s MICE industry to share his insight into the industry development strategy of the government, and what the future holds for the MICE industry in Japan.

Shinsuke Asai
MPI Japan

On the front page of the press release Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) distributed on April 28, 2010, The Japan MICE Year made a full-fledged start in the bold letters. Now, Japanese Government is stepping up its policy efforts to focus on the development of MICE. The MICE industry has drawn the attention of Japanese policymakers as important key driver to reenergize the economy. The campaign certainly brought a great deal of attention to and stirred up major changes in the MICE industry in Japan though the term “MICE” was not widely used yet.

The decision is closely linked to JTA’s ardent wish which is ‘Achievement of 30 Millions Foreign Visitors’.  Its original plan to grow the tourism business into a key driver of economic growth was announced in 2007 and set two challenging goals: increasing the number of foreign visitors to Japan to 10 million and increasing the number of int’l conferences held in Japan by more than 50% by the end of 2011.  JTA, established in 2008, established a goal to increase the number of foreign visitors to 30 million and carried out a large number of promotional activities.  JTA designated 2010 as “Japan MICE Year” as part of its campaign to appeal Japan’s advantages, in both hardware and software.

Why did Japan potentiate the MICE segment as one of serious action plans to stimulate inbound business? First of all, the economic driven by the MICE industry is the key factor. Japan is now facing the rapid aging of the population resulting from the decline in the birthrate. According to the MLIT‘s (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism) provisional calculation, it is expected that more than 30 millions resident populations will be faded away by 2050. The figure is about one third of the current Japanese population.  Since World War Ⅱ, Japan has never gotten into crunch mode in paying attention for inbound tourism including MICE as the economy has been generally stable, supported by the strong domestic consumptions.  Now the picture has changed. Another provisional calculation prepared by the Japan Tourism Agency, the expenditure per day of a foreign leisure inbound tourist is about JPY10,178 (USD127.00) while its expenditure of a MICE visitor per day is JPY61,000 (USD762.00).  Mr. Yuichi Takehara, Director of Int’l Tourism Relations in charge of MICE at JTA reported that ‘One reason to pay attention to the MICE industry is the significant economic benefits these meetings and events bring. MICE-related sales of goods and services are estimated by JTA \900 billion, roughly the same as the total book sales in Japan.’

Let me walk through the history of the MICE industry in Japan in regard to the following three fundamental factors which developed the MICE business: Hardware, Software and Human Resources. “Hardware” refers to the MICE infrastructure such as hotels, convention centers, conference halls, exhibition halls, airports, roads, transportations, etc. “Software” is related to policies, rules, regulations, process, procedures, and etc. “Human Resources” refers to the industry professionals which forms the backbone of the MICE industry. The term “convention” has been widely used in Japan since World War Ⅱ. A swift economic recovery has accelerated the growth of fundamental industries, such as automobile, machines, etc.

In 1954, the first Tokyo Motor Show was held at Hibiya Park in Tokyo. By the time when Tokyo Olympic game was held in 1964, several hotels in Tokyo with more than 500 rooms were timely open and ready to welcome int’l convention and conference groups. The infrastructure was not fully established, but the basic requirements were met in 1960s. And Japan has started to welcome int’l convention and conference groups mostly to Tokyo and Kyoto.

As the number of the int’l convention and conference market grew, the number of professional congress organizers (PCO) increased accordingly. In 1994, 45 cities (now 51) were approved as Int’l Tourism and Convention cities, and convention bureaus were established in those cities. At the same time, a large number of conference and exhibition facilities were built by both private enterprises and regional governments. However most targets of those facilities were domestic demands generated from association, academic or local meetings

I believe that “MICE” means schemes to stir communications amongst people by bringing them together to the MICE events for specific purposes.  The primary effects generated from hosting MICE events can be grouped into the following four categories:

  • Economic effect: MICE-related consumer spending may boost the local economy
  • Political and diplomatic effects: Hosting int’l conventions and academic meetings step up the region’s international awareness
  • Social and cultural effects: Hosting MICE may accelerate the internationalization of the local community.
  • Effects on tourism: MICE events could upgrade Japan’s national image and accelerate the number of foreign visitors to Japan. Therefore MICE is not merely a part of tourism, rather it is a robust economic engine to stimulate the economic and socio-cultural growth of the destination

The MICE competitions, not only within intra-Asia but globally, is expected to grow. There has been a construction boom of integrated resorts such as Singapore Sands in a global scale, and the newly built resorts have become architectural landmarks of the modern era. Since Asia is the continent with the most economic potential, the full array of the MICE infrastructure must be in place in accordance with the mid to long-term industry development strategies by each Asian country. And each country in Asia has to develop an individual strategy and action plan based upon what kind of MICE business it is planning to attract. Emerging destinations like China will reach its advanced peak in the various fundamental industries as Japan did the past. For instance, it resulted that China already ranks in the 3rd in terms of the number of exhibitions hosted in Asia. I think the exhibition segment has to be the top priority for those up and coming destinations.

Let me recap the fundamental factors for attracting MICE: Hardware, Software and Human Resources. The detail is as follows.


1. Hardware

As of today, there is no all-in-one MICE facility in Japan. The definition of all-in-one is the ideal which provides MICE visitors with the comfortable environment during their visit. It is a complex generally equipped with the convention and conference facilities, accommodation, shopping, restaurants, entertainments, etc. All-in-one facilities that can provide all the necessary functions are indispensable for the MICE visitors. Building integrated-resort type venues might be the most feasible option in Japan. In 1990, a lot of “Hako-Monos” (*Note: Hako means box while Mono stands for hardware in Japanese) were constructed in many cities in Japan in order to stimulate convention business; however most of them had their own set of flaws. Some are just designed for the purpose of theater-style, some are lacking accommodations nearby and some are already out of operation or suffering red figures. In the future, the investments should be put on the research projects to investigate the mechanism of the MICE business and trends and build more multi-functional facilities.


2. Software

Foreigners always say that Japan is the land of authorization and license. In other word, Japan might not be flexible in adjusting policies, rules, procedures and decision making processes as needed. I was once told that more than 40 licenses and authorizations are required to construct a hotel in Japan. It is necessary to set up effective systems to develop a popular and friendly MICE destination. It is critical to change the relevant systems in line with int’l norms and standards to reinforce Japan’s competitiveness in the global MICE market. One of the principals of any successful business is certainly sustainability, not short-term strategies with action plans which are always one or two year’s cycle. The Japanese Government along with the regional government bodies including convention bureaus have to develop a long-term vision, then mid and long term strategies and measurable action plans could be developed to realize the vision.

I have visited many local cities and met with the management in charge of the development of the MICE industry. Most of them go after domestic academic or association meetings, and their focus is restricted to those segments.  Some of them attempted to attract large scale academic meetings with 3,000+ attendees, but the biggest accommodation in the respective area was equipped with merely 200 rooms. This tells a simple truth, each regional city must first define what kind of the MICE business is best suitable for them. As Thomas Friedman wrote in his book, the World Is Getting Flat, a MICE group to Lyon might be a good prospect to Japanese medium-size cities, an annual incentive tour conducted in Hawaii might be a prospect to Okinawa. It is probably not appropriate that I refer to the necessity of “Open Sky” in this section; however, it is closely linked to the government policies and regulations since the accessibility of destinations is no longer assessed by the actual distance alone.


3. Human Resources

As for human resources, it is urgent to train highly skilled experts and professionals who can convince the int’l organizations that they can hold MICE in Japan and conduct effective negotiations during the course of the bidding process.  At the same time, it is necessary to plan out long-term lobbying activities in pursuit of the Int’l MICE market.

As one of core action plans of ‘Japan MICE Year’, the Japan Tourism Agency and JNTO (Japan Tourism Organization) launched several educational programs to nurture the industry professionals to better assist inbound MICE visitors.  Additionally, the Japan Tourism Agency financed the subsidiary to provide the private sector’s personnel with the int’l MICE organizations educational trainings or meetings, such as ICCA, IAPCO, MPI, etc., I think it is certainly important to develop professionals to properly serve incoming MICE visitors; however, it is immediately needed to develop professionals those who can bring in the MICE business to Japan. As mentioned previously, “the world is getting flat”. For instance, RFPs are directly delivered to venues, such as hotels, convention centers and conference facilities, the personnel at venues must be capable of preparing proposals and promptly submit them to the issuing party.

Networking and connections are also critical. Thanks to strong economy driven by domestic consumptions, Japan has not considered internationalization in the past. Here follows the numbers of Japanese listed in int’l MICE Associations: ICCA (17 organizations), MPI (66 individuals), SITE (4 organizations).  In the future, it is an urgent issue to connect those Int’l MICE associations to stay close to the MICE market intelligence, information and global standard.

What is the ideal future of Japan as a MICE DESTINATION? Through my experience at several US corporations over 30 years, the strongest selling point of Japan as a MICE destination is certainly a spirit of hospitality based upon tradition. Japan is unlike Singapore and other emerging countries which have to develop the new attractive infrastructures and contents, etc. to attract MICE business. Japan needs to box up current attractive resources and develop the mechanism to deliver those compressed key messages to right MICE organizers all over the world. It is not achieved without the joint strategic and continuing promotions by the both public and private sectors.  The catchphrase for Japan MICE Year is “Japan, A Global Crossroads.” I wish Japan can play an important role in as a crossroads of knowledge, information, intelligence and culture.  I believe that developing authentic MICE products and programs is the only way to stay competitive in international MICE market. The ROI is now a buzz word in the MICE industry. Japan has to be the destination to meet and exceed the various expectations of the MICE organizers.



Shinsuke (Shin) Asai’s career spans over 30 years in a variety of organizations within the travel industry. His career began as a meeting planner for MICE for Italy, specializing in the fashion industry. After four years in this capacity he moved directly into the hotel industry when he assumed the position of Regional Sales Manager- Far East ・Western International Hotels, now Westin Hotels and Resorts, working both the FIT and Wholesaler market segments. In 1984 he moved to Westin’s sister company, United Airlines, where he primarily focused his efforts on the business traveler as Commercial Sales Manager, Corporate Sales Manger-Japan. In this capacity Shin introduced the first corporate volume agreement to the Japanese business traveler. His final assignment at United was in the capacity of Passenger Sales and Automation Manager-Japan where he was responsible for the development and implementation of United Airline’s reservation distribution system.

In 2002, he accepted the position of Senior Director for Sheraton Resorts Phoenix Seagaia, the Japan’s largest resort complex, including 5 hotels, the Summit- the largest convention center in Japan, four golf courses and the Ocean Dome in Miyazaki. In this capacity he was in charge for the development of MICE, corporate and international markets. He established Mice Plus Institute in 2005, focusing on development of MICE business in Japan while he has been focusing on development of future MICE leaders in Japan as being capacity of president -MPI (Meeting Professionals International) Japan. MPI (Meeting Professionals International) Japan Club (Now Japan Chapter) was established in 1995. Shin has been assuming the president position since 2003.

  • President of MICE Plus Institute Inc
  • Current President of MPI (Meeting Professionals International) Japan Chapter since 2003
  • Japan Tourism Agency MICE Promotion and MICE infrastructure committee member
  • TCVB MICE Educational Program Lecturer
  • Advisor for Okinawa MICE Association
  • Head of MICE Management School of Japan Hotel Educational Center
  • JTB Business World Tokyo Corp Advisor
  • JTB Metropolitan Corp MICE Education Advisor
  • Past Board Director of Miyazaki Convention Visitor’s Bureau
  • Past Board Director of Miyazaki City Tourism Office




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