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Japan: A WTTC affair to remember

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Written by Nell Alcantara

It is now common knowledge that not only did Japan successfully host this year’s World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit, but it managed to bring new elements to the annual gathering of

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It is now common knowledge that not only did Japan successfully host this year’s World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit, but it managed to bring new elements to the annual gathering of top travel and tourism executives.

This year’s gathering marked the first time that the Global Summit was held in two cities. The summit’s organizing committee, headed by Toshiba chairman Atsutoshi Nishida, scrapped its plan of hosting the entire event in Tokyo and added Sendai to host parts of the summit. Sendai, being that it was one of the affected areas during last year’s tsunami, was a peculiar choice but also an obvious one–Japan was motivated to show its travel and tourism industry’s resilience and ability to bounce back from a disaster. Sendai, which is some 227 miles away from Tokyo and a couple of train rides away from Narita International Airport, could have easily been a chaotic affair. Through impeccable planning, the organizing committee in partnership with Sendai’s public and private sectors, successfully executed what they sought out to do–show that Sendai is accessible and is open for business, even high-profile meetings and conferences!

This year’s edition of the annual WTTC summit also welcomed the Pacific Asia Travel Association into the fold. In addition to PATA CEO Martin Craigs participating in several panel discussions, PATA released a publication called “Bounce Back: Tourism Risk Crisis and Recovery Management Guide,” written by Bert van Walbeek and eTN’s tourism security expert, David Beirman. PATA’s involvement comes as a significant development because it gives momentum to the “speaking with one voice” issue that WTTC and the United Nations World Tourism Organization have been supportive of.

Another first in the history of WTTC’s Global Summit was the introduction of the Global Summit Mobile App, which was launched via Toshiba’s new mobile tablet called Regza. Summit attendees were given unprecedented access not only with one another (think: instant messaging), but the mobile app was an innovative approach to making the summit sessions more interactive. With a few clicks on Toshiba’s new tablet, attendees were given an opportunity to participate via “session polling,” meaning attendees could vote on a specific question or questions within a session, and “session questions,” meaning attendees need could send questions instantaneously to a speaker directly. With the WTTC’s summit mobile app, there was no need in raising one’s hand at this summit to comment or ask questions, but the option was certainly there. The challenge for WTTC now is to make sure that its summit mobile app stays relevant in future summits.

As expected, the Sendai/Tokyo Summits touched on the day’s most significant topics–visa, security, airlines, trends, etc. But, what turned out to be the most memorable feature of the summits is that it genuinely embodied the essence of Japanese people’s hospitality. From airport greeters to train greeters to various high level government officials, the common message was: “Thank you for coming to Japan. We appreciate you being here.” These words were heartfelt and moving, as was the story of our Sendai tour guide who was happy to be working. According to her, some of her colleagues have not been as fortunate. “I have a friend who had to take a low-paying job because she could find work as a tour guide,” she recalled. Her story is testament that even a country like Japan, which has helped so many economies thrive through travel and tourism, needs tourists, too. For some countries, it should be a matter of reciprocity. If you have welcomed Japanese tourists in droves, now is an opportune time to return the favor.

When Jean Claude Baumgarten, former WTTC president and current vice chairman, cleared his schedule to fly to Japan in the days immediately following last year’s tsunami and nuclear crisis, he was certain of one thing: As the then-president of WTTC, he felt being in Tokyo sent a strong message of support for Japan. Part of that support was informing Japan of its options in terms of hosting commitment. Mr. Baumgarten found it hard to explicate how he much he admires Japan during his speech at this year’s summit. He best summed up his 2011 visit to Tokyo in one word: moving. This year’s WTTC Global Summit in Japan delivered on that same note. It was indeed moving.

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