The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

As the host city for both the 2019 Rugby World Cup and Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Tokyo must prepare for an influx of international attention—be it in the form of tourism or business. Pressure on facilities for meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE) is beginning to mount as the city takes a more prominent role on the global stage.

But that is not the only change taking place. As work cultures shift due to increased internationalization and the greater presence in the workforce of Millennials and even Post-Millennials—also referred to as Generation Z—companies are reconsidering the benefits of MICE and the services that they require. With this change in focus, the MICE sector is now adopting new approaches to everything from cuisine to location.

WINDS OF CHANGE
A stronger focus on employee wellbeing is one example of how shifts in the foundation of work culture can cause waves in MICE. Indeed, many in the sector now emphasize what they can contribute to staff morale.

“We feel that off-site meetings in new surroundings will help change employees’ perspectives. The power balance tends to get static in meetings conducted in the same room in-house,” Yoshiko Takiguchi, manager of Hotel & Residence Roppongi, suggested.

In fact, Takiguchi believes this familiarity and routine can suppress innovation. “One person will drive the discussion and the roles of participants, and in terms of how often they speak—and even where they sit—this becomes a kind of routine.”

Brian Ashenfelder, executive corporate banquet sales manager at Tokyo American Club, highlighted the benefits of having events and meetings outside the office. “Off-site meetings and receptions, incorporated with team-building activities, improve morale and performance by giving employees the chance to get out of the office and interact on neutral ground.”

This, he said, allows employees to relax and express themselves more freely, away from the “physically and figuratively restrictive boundaries of the office.”

Tan Lai Seng, representative director and regional general manager for Japan and Korea at Ascott International Management Japan Company Limited, emphasized the benefits of being away from the office for performance. “The employee can be away from the office phone and visitors, so concentration increases.”

Cultural attractions, such as the Shintora Festival at Toranomon Hills, are one way for MICE facilities to create team-building activities.

Another benefit is that events outside the office help employees feel valued, said Kosuke Kinoshita, project leader for the planning group of the Nihonbashi Urban Planning and Development Department at Mitsui Fudosan Co., Ltd. in Tokyo. The idea that the company is willing to invest in their employees to further business and improve performance is important for employee retention.

Takiguchi said food is another key consideration for any MICE venue. Hotel & Residence Roppongi’s Coconoma Season Dining gives teams a chance to share a meal, which can inspire creativity and encourage those who don’t normally interact to converse and collaborate. “It shuffles things up and managers can expect new ideas to appear.”

As teams become more multicultural, businesses must make cultural education part of their training, and this is an area in which MICE venues can contribute.

“One of our other focus areas is an effort to raise cultural understanding among teams of Japanese and non-Japanese members, as well as professional-level English improvement for Japanese teams that are becoming more and more international,” said Takiguchi.

Hotel & Residence Roppongi uses its own lounge, the Koagari space and the Green Cafe space for team events, allowing smaller groups to enjoy an intimate setting with less pressure. “They can feel more comfortable getting out of their comfort zone.”

Tokyo is opening up to international business, and the government is working to make the city a hub for international companies. Hyatt Regency Tokyo’s Associate Director of Sales, Shin Toyama explained, “If the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and private parties cooperate, we will be able to offer more attractive programs.”

The Hyatt Regency Tokyo‘s banquet rooms can be adapted to meet event needs.

CULTURE CURE
MICE venues are also reconsidering how Tokyo itself can play an important role in meeting client needs and expectations. Team-building events and team meetings that involve Japanese culture are great ways to do this, and location plays an important role. The new Ascott Marunouchi Tokyo, for example, benefits from its proximity to Tokyo Station and the business hub that surrounds it.

“We offer a special guest program called Ascott Lifestyle programmes,” Tan explained. “We organize cultural visits for team building.” The central location makes this easy to implement.

Teams can explore old Tokyo at the Tokyo Edo Museum in Sumida Ward.

Toyama highlighted the historical sites, modern areas, unique sites such as Harajuku’s Cat Street, and the endless traditional experiences available in Tokyo. “I think Tokyo has so many unique options that are not only enjoyable, but also help make meetings or conferences successful.”

Both Tan and Kinoshita highlighted the Marunouchi area as a center for business. Kinoshita added that Roppongi and Nihonbashi are also important areas, as they combine some of Tokyo’s cultural highlights with a strong business environment.

Kinoshita stressed the need to appeal to inbound business. In fact, Mitsui Fudosan is endorsing Nihonbashi as an ideal location for team-building activities, with emphasis on the mixture of old and new—as embodied by the Coredo Muromachi shopping and entertainment complex—and as a chance for people to do business and experience Japan’s culture.

Effective and varied use of the MICE space is also important. Tokyo American Club (TAC), for example, offers bowling parties held in tandem with off-site meetings. “We have six bowling lanes and a party space where guests can compete, congregate, and unwind,” Ashenfelder said. “Working with outside vendors, we also have order-made games and activities for team-building exercises to help our clients optimize team performance.”

Others make the most of Tokyo’s strengths by leveraging outside vendors in the city and have partners that help with team-building exercises, focused on activities that also benefit the business. “We have a partner company that can offer team-building activities if necessary,” explained Takiguchi of Hotel & Residence Roppongi.

REACHING OUT
The challenge for MICE venues now is to effectively communicate what they have to offer. And in the run-up to two huge global events, that is particularly true, with Tokyo’s MICE infrastructure standing to benefit from disseminating information that appeals to event organizers.

One shortcoming that Takiguchi pointed out is communication. “We all have to be more proactive in providing information to the organizing committees. There is a lack of information on the variety of venues available, and we are always surprised that a lot of hotels in Tokyo still don’t have a sufficient social media presence.

TAC hosts events such as rooftop barbecues, which encourage team bonding.

“We are working on how to reach out at the moment, and assume most places around Tokyo will also be giving information dissemination their best effort.” Aside from rugby and the Olympics, Takiguchi also sees an increase in MICE facilities as Japan’s gaming sector grows.

With more inquiries coming from overseas, and many booking their events further in advance, the growth is obvious. Ascott’s Tan has seen an increase in requests for meeting and event spaces, but finds that clients are expecting more.

Assessing MICE trends seen by TAC, Ashenfelder added: “In years past, business during the summer slowed dramatically. Customers would call and settle on pricing very quickly—frequently contacting only one or two potential venues for their events. This is no longer the case. Potential clients are now calling around for the best price, contacting multiple hotels and venues.”

That is another reason venues can’t stand still. A complete reconstruction of TAC was completed in 2011, and the facility’s spaces continually undergo renewal with state-of-the-art equipment. However, “venues will need to become more flexible and think outside the box. Traditional offerings and services will no longer be sufficient—especially post-Olympics.” Ashenfelder pointed to kosher and halal food services as one example.

That bodes well for companies adapting to cultural change—such as greater focus on employee health and work incentives—that are looking to see this shift in priorities reflected in their choice of MICE venues. And with major international events coming to Japan, companies in the MICE market will need to stay on top of their game.

Maxine Cheyney is a staff writer at Custom Media for The ACCJ Journal.
As work cultures shift . . . companies are reconsidering the benefits of MICE.