Meetings + The Muse: Cultural Event Updates from IMEX 2011, Las Vegas

Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto, Japan

As things heated up inside the Oval Office, he said, “Wait a minute guys. See that rock, it’s 3.6 billion years old. We’re all just passing through, so take a deep breath, calm down, and let’s see what makes sense.”

The gesture accomplished the desired effect on the group dynamic by forcing everyone’s brain to turn a corner.

Most meeting planners fully understand the power of creativity—whether it’s a venue, experience, agenda or moon rock—to shift the framework of a conversation. But the message was really hammered home at the first IMEX America 2011 tradeshow in October, located in the Sands Convention Center between The Venetian Las Vegas and The Palazzo Las Vegas. Suppliers from Australia to Zimbali were pumped up with the overwhelming success of the new show, while promoting their innovative group options within a context of worldwide culture.

This was a priority on our list. When the earthquake and tsunami rearranged the northern coastline off Fukushima on March 11, meeting professionals and PCOs around the world cancelled programs everywhere in Japan.

Gil Cardon, convention manager with the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), has been very busy since then to show the world testimonials from groups who have visited recently. Definitely check out JNTO’s series of YouTube videos where attendees provide plenty of firsthand feedback.

“Things started to pick up in June and we started to see some of the conferences and conventions that were postponed in those immediate months following being put back forth into motion,” says Cardon. “Since then it’s been pretty steadily increasing back to normal…. The recovery is definitely in motion.”

But are there lingering doubts in the U.S. market?

“I think so, unfortunately,” says Cardon. “It depends on who you ask. If you ask the delegates who have visited, they’ll say, ‘Yes, there was a little bit of concern but not much…. Once we arrived here, we realized it’s totally fine and things are okay.’”

To visit Japan as a hosted buyer, consider attending next year’s Meet Japan 2012, running Feb. 23-March 1.

Cardon says the most popular group destinations for U.S. planners are Tokyo in the north and Osaka/Kyoto in the central region. Up until 1869, Kyoto was the cultural and political capital of Japan and the birthplace of Zen Buddhism.

This is Japan’s moon rock.

Imagine an executive group meditation class inside an ancient temple with a Buddhist monk leading the proceedings. We spoke with Taka Kawakami, a venerated monk in Kyoto who facilitates just such events inside Shunkoin Temple, established in 1590. Inside, historical artifacts date back to the 16th century.

“Many participants say they enjoy my Zen meditation class and learn how to use Zen philosophy and meditation in their everyday lives,” says Kawakami. “They say that the class is great because they can learn not only the tradition, but they can also learn the reason why meditation is useful to their lives.”

We had to ask. What’s the ROI of a Zen meditation class?

“Being present and understanding impermanency are the main contexts of Zen Buddhism,” Kawakami explains. “In a business sense, it is important to know the reality and changing situation of your business. You need to keep adjusting yourself to the change; you cannot use the same business strategy again and again. It is necessary to understand the situation and reinvent yourself.”

James Kent, marketing coordinator for Kyoto Convention Bureau, says the meditation classes are popular, as well as tea ceremonies and Taiko drumming lessons. Groups also often break into smaller classes for flower arranging, calligraphy lessons, pottery making and kimono dyeing.

Kyoto is two hours south of Tokyo via the many speedy bullet trains, and Kent says split programs are common with 28% of inbound traffic to Kyoto coming from the States. He told us, “Both Kyoto and Tokyo need each other…. Especially now.”