Sapporo’s rising star

Martin Donovan enjoys a non-monetary flutter at one of Japan’s race course at a gala before a conference at the Hokkaido capital got underway

Anyone with a sense of fair competition likes the idea of a dark horse – the rank outsider who comes from way behind the pack to reach the finishing line first. One couldn’t help thinking of that when Sapporo Convention Bureau brought delegates to the city’s racecourse for a welcome dinner that climaxed in the showing of one of Japan’s top horse races from the summer of last year.

Few watching the big screen from the comfort of a lounge at the city’s snow-scaped race course could’ve picked the winner – Frozen Impact. Luckily, no cash was lost as “all bets were off”.

Organisers of the first Sapporo MICE Leaders Summit chose the local JRA (Japan Racing Association) course as the unique venue for the dinner. The evening not only served as a metaphor for what lesser known convention cities can do, but it also showed that there’s more to Sapporo than winter sports. Off-season, the city has plenty more to offer, including cherry blossom which, once the winter gives way, will be in full bloom.

The business side to the event involved a keynote speech by Gold Coast Tourism CEO, Martin Winter, and the MICE Leaders Summit moderated by MIX. Winter gave insights into how it was vital for Gold Coast to create special branding and marketing campaigns to establish the city as serious business events destination – well, at least for the car dealerships, franchise holders and direct sellers.

Also on the panel was Nopparat Maythaveekulchai, President of Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau; Alicia Yao, Deputy Secretary General of the China MICE Committee; Myungwan Lee, CEO of Daejon International Marketing Enterprise – which represents the South Korean city of Daejon, well known for its scientific and research prowess – Takako Jordan Kurosawa, Deputy Chair of the ICCA Asia-Pacific Chapter, and Hiroyuki Nakata, vice-president of Sapporo Convention Bureau.

Looks like Sapporo’s rise will continue to warm the meetings and incentives industry. Though the city is vying to host the 2027 Winter Olympics, its efforts are longer confined to the icy impact of winter sports. Place your bets.

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