Convention Case Studies

The annual Ambassadors Gathering

Japan’s Latest Virus Prevention Technologies Trialed by Conference Ambassadors

In September, the annual Ambassadors Gathering at Hotel Okura Tokyo provided an ideal opportunity for veterans of the meetings world to trial how the latest technologies and hygiene protocols can be used to operate face-to-face events during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) currently has 69 Japan Conference Ambassadors who promote Japan as a host country for meetings, incentive tours, conferences, exhibitions, and events. They are top thinkers, innovators, and devoted researchers from leading academic institutions and industries, and serve as the local representatives for international events held in Japan. This year 32 Ambassadors joined the gathering to reflect on how to build safer and more impactful events in the future.

Conference Overview

Event Name The annual Ambassadors Gathering
Dates September 29, 2020
Location On-site
Attendance -
  1. Safety First
  2. Ambassadors shared valuable tips for successful online meetings
  3. Cutting-edge technology and services showcased
  4. Networking with consideration
  5. What was the Ambassadors’ verdict?

Safety First

To protect the health of participants, the event organizers, in cooperation with venue personnel, put in place robust infection prevention measures and followed the guidelines developed by the Japan Congress Convention Bureau (JCCB) and the Japan Convention Management Association (JCMA), which cover specific policies regarding the hosting of meetings, events and conferences in the Covid-19 era.
Safety measures at the event demonstrated many aspects of what may become the norm for international conferences in the future, including:

  • Body temperature and health monitoring of all event staff
  • Disinfection at the entrance
  • Contactless temperature checks
  • Wearing of facemasks, plus extra stock in case needed
  • Reception counter and speaker’s podium equipped with acrylic boards to block droplets
  • Microphone disinfected and cover replaced after each speaker
  • Increased frequency of ventilating the event room
  • Number of seats more than halved to ensure physical distancing
  • Markers on the floor for physical distancing

Dr. Masahiro Yamaguchi, Engineering Professor at Tohoku University, and one of the Ambassadors who attended the event, commented:
“I attended the meeting to learn useful information on how to propose and implement international conferences for the future. We must now consider factors such as, can the participants feel safe when attending the meeting? Can the organizer assure the safety of participants? How might we ensure typically Japanese precautionary measures will be understood and adopted by participants from overseas who are not familiar with Japanese culture, particularly that of self-restraint for the public good? I was hoping that attending a meeting held with adequate precautionary measures could provide me with relevant first-hand experience to answer these questions. This event showcasing the latest hygiene protocols provided a valuable opportunity to gain a simulated experience of what's likely to be expected of future events.”

Ambassadors shared valuable tips for successful online meetings

During the event, two speakers presented their own experiences -one on the bidding process and another on holding a virtual meeting during this pandemic. With the meetings and events industry likely to be forever changed by the coronavirus pandemic, many of the participating Ambassadors commented that they were impressed by the successful online meeting example and presentations shared and that they provoked them to consider how they can create better, more impactful, more diverse and inclusive events for the future.

“Road to Winning the Bid for the Annual Meeting of the International Congress of Entomology”
Hideharu Numata, Japan Conference Ambassador and Zoology Professor at Kyoto University

Ambassadors shared valuable tips for successful online meetings

Professor Numata spoke on specific activities undertaken while bidding to host the International Congress of Entomology meeting, to be held in Japan in 2024, including:

  1. how to communicate the unique attractiveness of scientific research conducted in Japan;
  2. how to ensure the gender balance at a meeting; and
  3. the importance of presenting firm evidence that Japan is speaking with one voice for welcoming and hosting the meeting.

The audience noted a number of innovative practices from Professor Numata’s presentation thatthey felt could be useful for bidding and hosting other international conferences. These included:

  • Increasing the involvement of women researchers and younger researchers, not only as participants, but also building a system to have them lead on hosting and managing the meeting.
  • Utilizing JNTO support, such as consulting with native speakers on presentations in English.
  • Organization of a Union of Japanese Societies for Insect Studies, an umbrella alliance formed in a bid to host the meeting.
Thought-provoking content

The presentation drew praise from participating Ambassadors:
“It is essential nowadays to consider the balance of gender and age at any international conference. The story of a group of young and female researchers assigned to make presentations as the prospective host of an international conference was impressive and should be replicated in future activities.”
“I was reminded of the importance of coordinated nationwide efforts when bidding to host a meeting.”

“93rd Annual Meeting of the Japanese Orthopaedic Association in Virtual Format: Background, Ingenuities, Merits and Demerits”
Keishi Marumo, Congress President of the 93rd Annual Meeting of the Japanese Orthopaedic Association and Professor at Jikei University Hospital

Professor Marumo presented a case study on one of the first meetings to go online during the pandemic, the 93rd Annual Meeting of the Japanese Orthopaedic Association. As the Congress President, he was able to share details of innovative measures to increase corporate sponsorship and attendance in the virtual format.
In a JNTO survey of the Japan Conference Ambassadors, many responded that while Covid-19 brought home the importance and significance of face-to-face meetings, the pandemic was likely to result in more conferences being held online, including in hybrid format, at least for the immediate future.
According to Professor Marumo, measures to secure corporate sponsorship included placing sponsors' banners on the website to ensure exposure, providing demographic information about the participants, and redirecting participants to their exhibition booths. Those advantages were explained in detail to potential sponsors, resulting in considerable success. Other measures to increase attendance and engagement in the meeting included video viewing on YouTube, holding a virtual get-together, and organizing an interuniversity e-sport competition.
The presentation gave the Ambassadors much to consider:
“I used to focus on how to hold a traditional-style meeting. The lecture made me realize that we must consider how to leverage the expertise gained during the pandemic when planning and organizing academic conferences after Covid-19,” said one of the Ambassadors.
Another participant commented: “Professor Marumo said that we must decide whether to organize a meeting offline or online no later than two months before the start of the meeting. Unlike in Europe and America, where conference facilities and hotels may charge cancellation fees one or two years prior to a meeting, conference facilities in Japan, particularly public facilities, allow conference organizers to wait until the meeting draws nearer before deciding on the best solution for the participants. This could be one of the major advantages of holding a conference in Japan.”

Cutting-edge technology and services showcased

The event at the Hotel Okura Tokyo provided the ideal platform for the Ambassadors to see first-hand the latest innovations that could be useful for future events, including international conferences.
Exhibits of new technologies to prevent virus transmission included:

  • AIRLIA Ceiling® by Iwasaki Electric - an UV purification airflow system that removes bacteria and viruses with ultraviolet light.
  • AI-driven face-recognition thermal camera by Iris Ohyama - capable of identifying individuals by face recognition while detecting persons with fever.
  • C-Face Smart Mask by Donut Robotics - used to amplify and translate the voice of the wearer.
  • AI-driven self-check-in counter by Togashi - a new type of contactless, temperature measurement device that allows participants to self-check their temperature for admittance to the venue, a task currently predominantly performed by security guards and reception staff.
  • Congestion-preventing sensors were among others state-of-the-art equipment demonstrated at the event.

Services on show included:

  • AI-driven onsite head-counting system by Atom Tech - used to visualize the density of crowding at the venue and prevent congestion.
  • A meeting system by Synamon that allows VR-based communication.
  • Covid-19 lump-sum benefit rider by Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance - a domestic travel insurance product specifically designed to provide coverage for risks related to the pandemic.

Networking with consideration

In a report by BBC Storyworks on the future of business events during Covid, four of the meetings industry’s most prominent thought leaders all agreed virtual cannot replace the benefits of face-to-face meetings. The opportunity to exchange opinions and build relationships in person is a key benefit to traditional meetings, so facilitating one-to-one discussions and offering networking sessions was considered vital to the Ambassadors Gathering.
Exhibition booths were arranged to showcase precautionary measures, with face and mouth shields made available to visitors. Catering was provided with measures in place to reduce contact, including providing finger-foods and drinks in lidded containers, buffet dishes served by staff, and frequently replacing tongs and other utensils. To put participants at ease, acrylic boards were also placed on the break-out tables in the networking area to block droplets.

Networking with consideration

What was the Ambassadors’ verdict?

We interviewed Japan Conference Ambassadors who participated in the event on the future prospects for face-to-face events, as well as their overall impression of the meeting.

Kumiko Haba
Kumiko Haba
Japan Conference Ambassador

Professor, SIPEC (School of International Politics, Economics and Communication), Aoyama Gakuin University
Guest Professor, Kyoto University
Director, Institute for Global International Relations
Vice President, International Studies Association Asia Pacific (ISA-AP)

This was my first time to participate in the Ambassadors Gathering as a Japan Conference Ambassador. As the first Ambassador in the discipline of humanities and social sciences, and only the fourth female Ambassador, I feel a strong sense of responsibility. I look forward to seeing many more leaders, particularly female leaders, contributing their expertise in the humanities and social sciences as Japan Conference Ambassadors. We are organizing an international conference in December, so I found the case study featuring an initiative to attract more viewers through an on-demand system and an online get-together useful.
I think holding a conference virtually is a very effective way to build a global network as it allows people from remote countries with restricted budgets to participate without spending time and money for travel and accommodation. I am particularly thankful for today’s timely information exchange and interaction coming soon before our winter conference. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, video-conferencing technology has enabled us to organize an international conference with 10 other countries in Europe, America and Asia, set to take place weeks from now.
However, not all international conferences can be shifted online; it’s not the same as a face-to-face meeting, which allows active communication after the conference like we did today. Also, an online get-together cannot replace cocktail parties and dinners, which are invaluable opportunities for networking through close, personal interaction.
The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to force many meetings to be held online, but I am sure that many researchers across the globe are looking forward to attending an international conference in Japan, a country with definite advantages in terms of safety, security, cleanliness and hospitality. Today’s event was a great educational opportunity to learn from recent case studies, with people involved in hosting and organizing international conferences sharing their experiences and expertise. I hope to continue information exchange with other Ambassadors I met at this event while preparing to host the upcoming December conference. Last but not least, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to JNTO for planning and arranging this valuable opportunity.

Masahiro Yamaguchi
Masahiro Yamaguchi

Japan Conference Ambassador
Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, Graduate School of Engineering, Tohoku University

I believe that the Covid-19 pandemic has given us a unique opportunity to organize conferences in Video Tele-Conferencing or hybrid format in combination with in-person meetings.
However, there have been few announcements of hybrid conferences in 2021, at least for now. The hybrid format is a complex way of holding a conference as the management of online and offline sessions needs to be synchronized. Moreover, it is difficult to foresee how a hybrid meeting be actualized on the actual event dates as the number of participants in the online and offline sessions may vary until the last moment, depending on the conditions of the pandemic across the globe. I also still believe that participants prefer to meet in person, keeping the option of participating online just in case. Thus, the greatest challenge for the organizer now is how to minimize costs by building the optimal structure. I hope that a good business model will be established for hybrid meetings, with information to be shared among the organizers of international conferences.

Hideharu Numata
Hideharu Numata

Japan Conference Ambassador
Professor, Department of Zoology, Kyoto University Graduate School of Science

In 2021, Finland will host the first meeting of the International Congress of Entomology in the post-pandemic era. Although we are still not sure whether we can meet in person next year, I think various kinds of expertise will be accumulated over the next few years that will be useful for us in organizing the 2024 Kyoto Congress.
Even at university, a lecture on campus with direct interaction with the lecturer is more memorable for students than lectures given online. Personally, for me, what I have heard directly in lectures and seminars has left a stronger impression. Of course, there are positive things about online meetings, but they cannot reproduce all the advantages of an in-person meeting. Nevertheless, we must consider how best to hold conferences safely and securely in the years ahead.