Despite being a crucial gateway to Japan since having been designated a treaty port during the Edo period, Yokohama has nonetheless lived in the shadow of neighboring Tokyo in terms of its global reputation.

That status looks to be changing. Major events, such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the 2019 Rugby World Cup, once again will bring international attention to the city.

Already, the British Olympic Association has chosen Yokohama as one of its three training bases for Team GB ahead of the Games, and International Stadium Yokohama will host the Rugby World Cup final.

This strong sporting presence in the city is drawing an optimistic response from those in Yokohama’s Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) sector. Many believe that both international sporting events will be a significant boost for the city’s business and reputation.

Fumika Sato, manager of the business events team at the Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau (YCVB), is convinced. “With the big worldwide events of the Rugby World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics, we expect that the popularity and recognition of Yokohama will increase, and it will lead to further conferences and meetings”, she said. “After the success of those events, we believe that awareness concerning Yokohama will be expanded, as well as bring us the opportunity to improve the brand quality of Yokohama as a MICE city.

“In addition, we also expect to be recognized as a satellite city of Tokyo by appealing to Yokohama’s convenient access from Tokyo”.

The Olympics themselves are also set to bring a spike in MICE bookings, with many firms looking to make the most of the occasion to promote their goods and services, particularly those brands officially connected to the event.

“More opportunities are lining up for the banquet, event and catering sections”, said Takako Tomizawa, director of sales at Yokohama Bay Sheraton Hotel & Towers. “Sponsors will organize a series of parties, as well as gatherings for the purpose of public viewings during the Games”.

But the Olympics is also driving business to Yokohama in other ways, as venues in Tokyo have become oversubscribed or are to be used for the Games themselves.

“We’ve been receiving enquiries from customers who had been planning to use venues in Tokyo, but needed to move to other cities for the reason that those venues in Tokyo are to be used as actual sports venues or for roles such as the press centre”, explained Hiromi Murayama, manager of the sales and marketing division of Pacifico Yokohama.

In it together

Both public and private organizations in Yokohama’s MICE sector are taking steps to ensure they maximize the benefits of the upcoming sporting events. Chief among these is a new facility that will be adjacent to, and run by, the Pacifico Yokohama.

With hall space totaling 6,300m2, it can accommodate up to 6,000 people and also has classroom, buffet and banqueting facilities, as well as a theatre and meeting rooms. The new facility—scheduled to open in spring 2020—represents a significant investment in MICE for Yokohama and seeks to match the anticipated growth in demand.

“We are now seeing stronger public–private partnerships than ever with the involvement of the YCVB, Yokohama City’s Culture and Tourism Bureau and the prefectural government’s international tourism division”, said Tomizawa. “It would be great if we could organize a destination marketing organization or tourism business alliance to have international attention steadily focused on Yokohama”.

Firms are also stepping up their own individual efforts, with Pacifico Yokohama increasing its digital marketing footprint to draw attention to its all-in-one facilities and to increase awareness among international customers. But for these firms it is also important to emphasize the general qualities and facilities of the city as well.

“Yokohama City is proud of its very convenient access from home and abroad, and its relaxed atmosphere by the sea in the middle of a metropolitan city,” Murayama said.

Chris Russell

Lee Matz

Originally published by the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan as MICE build-up for major events