DESTINATION management is at what feels like the thin-end of the wedge that Covid-19 has driven through the business world.
With hopes of domestic travel gradually recovering across Asia, hotels and tour agencies can tap into this (and any government stimulus packages) to replace at least a portion of their inbound losses.
Inbound-specialist DMCs across across Asia, however, often don’t legally have that option. There is an old adage that when the going gets tough, the tough get going; we did that with a Tokyo-wide activity involving business event stakeholders, but more of that later.
So back to Covid: At this stage there is no simple answer to the question of what DMCs and suppliers can do to stay alive until international travel and events return. In a year or two, that answer will be clear, but in that time a million deaths worldwide may have doubled or tripled.
As far as financial loss is concerned, the travel and business events industry has become a high-stakes waiting game.
Pivoting to online and virtual, be that for business meetings or small-scale cultural experiences is a popular and valid short-term option, but also one with clear limitations.
Here in Japan, our waiting-game’s elephant in the room is the Olympics, an unquestioned blessing if they go ahead as planned. There again, they have the potential of being a domino-driving curse if the Games are ultimately cancelled.
It is now apparent that the Olympics themselves are likely to be the longed-for “return of international travel and events”, meaning that the next international events we have the opportunity to manage may be Olympic-related, coming off almost 18 months without business.
This feels like a major-league baseball pitcher returning from an 18-month injury-rehab to pitch their first game in the World Series. Dreams can come true, but the odds and analytics surely favour a flameout, with severe consequences for all concerned.
With this in mind, immediately after Japan’s late spring lockdown, The J Team DMC embarked on creating a pair of events with multiple important short-term, and one less overt long-term goals.
The Great Tokyo Odyssey 2020, affectionately known internally as “NTTM”, (‘Not The Tokyo Marathon’) took place on Sunday, September 6, the date on which, in a Covid-free parallel universe, the Paralympic Marathon might have been held.
In combination with 20 industry partners and a variety of freelance friends and collaborators, a total just over a hundred people of 10 nationalities undertook an ekiden (relay) walk/run of 23, 2 to 3km stages along a 60km route passing through almost every corner of central Tokyo, starting and finishing beside the new Olympic Stadium.
The 11-hour-plus odyssey was, of course, carefully socially distanced, masked and with plentiful sanitiser, and a month later we can confirm no reported cases of Covid-19 among participants.
As well as an exceptional opportunity to reaffirm and strengthen bonds with key partners in the Tokyo MICE industry, and the obvious marketing opportunities generated by such an event, a total of 500,000 yen (about US$4,750) was raised in participation fees and donations.
Three charities benefited including the foodbank Second Harvest Japan (2HJ), which works on the frontline to provide meals and food packages to those most directly and severely impacted by the economic fallout of Covid-19.
2HJ’s confirmation that the donation was enough to finance 10,000 meals was, in itself, reward-enough for the exhausted Not the Tokyo Marathon participants.
And, J-Team’s overall goal to plan, co-ordinate and execute a challenging event was achieved, with invaluable experience gained in managing our destination in the age of Covid-19.
We are now preparing a similar event combining the unique energy of Osaka and sublime charm of Kyoto.
This is being done while covertly working to copyright “the Great Tokyo Odyssey” and several of its potential siblings as unique, outdoor, Covid-19-protectable, wellness-creating options for future clients to explore a destination and strengthen a team.
Geraint Holt is managing director and owner of the J-Team, Japan’s first MICE-specialist DMC. He has been in destination management for 35 years – 33 of them in Japan