Okinawa is targeting Asian business event and incentive travel organisers as the prefecture extends its annual MICE Project and trade show beyond a ‘domestically focused’ event.

The Japanese island is counting on more MICE groups choosing Okinawa as a destination by promoting its unique cultural and natural attractions. This week’s Okinawa MICE Project saw 179 buyers, destination management company representatives, conference organisers and media from eight countries and regions descend on the tropical island for orientation programmes and the trade show, which is in its fifth year.

“Okinawa has been the leading prefecture in pursuing MICE business, and the entire prefecture is

working aggressively as one to bring more MICE events,” Shigenobu Asato (left),  chairman of the island’s convention and visitors bureau, said in his opening speech for the trade show, which was held at Okinawa Convention Centre.

The overwhelming majority of international participants at the event were from Asia with Thailand, South Korea, China, Singapore and Malaysia strongly represented. Okinawa’s convention bureau chiefs want to highlight the island’s location in Asia Pacific, its air links, safety, established resort hotels, and an increasing range of venue and activity options.

More international hotel brands have opened, including Ritz-Carlton's first luxury resort in Japan, with a Double Tree by Hilton and a Mercure recently joining the likes of Marriott, Crowne Plaza and InterContinental.

Junji Kamiya, the director in charge of Okinawa Prefecture’s tourism promotion division, said: “Since last year, we have been taking measures to develop this event into something bigger than the domestically focused event it used to be, by inviting many buyers from overseas.”

Highlights of the 2012 MICE project included a gala evening at the Bankoku Shinryokan, a “MICE resort facility” that hosted the G8 Summit in 2000, a mass team-building competition at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and the Kafu Resort Fuchaku Condo Hotel showcasing its halal catering service.

Winners of a competition (main picture) held to enhance MICE services were led by were led by Okinawa Congress Corporation, the PCO behind the Bankoku Shinryokan party that climaxed with a fireworks display.

Other winners included Shuri Ryusen for its use of the traditional Okinawan craft of colouring  garments with coral and dye. The small business arranges team-building and ice-breaking sessions for groups.