Word of Mouth

Robin Hulsey, assistant vice president, administrative services, National Western Life Insurance Company, Austin, Texas

It's easy to find destinations that tout their many advantages for meeting and incentive planners. But perhaps the best way to learn what Japan is really like is to hear it from the planners themselves.


National Western Life Insurance Company stages a two-tier incentive program every year. The company decided to hold its 2008 sales conference in Tokyo, with an estimated 500 attendees. After the conference, about 220 of the participants will continue to Kyoto for the company's 2008 Champions Club event. Hulsey has already traveled to Japan to research facilities and venues.


Q: WHAT DO YOU FIND UNIQUE ABOUT JAPAN?

A: Japan is unique in so many ways. I personally had some incredible experiences, from my first formal tea ceremony to my first public bath. I certainly ate some things I would have never considered eating previously and discovered both hot and cold sake. There is something for everyone in Japan. If you do not like typical Japanese food, try the delectable Kobe beef, or anything from French and Italian to hamburgers and pizza.

Q: DID YOU HAVE ANY LANGUAGE PROBLEMS WHILE TRAVELING IN JAPAN?

A: With a little help and guidance, I think most people can get by just fine in Japan. Most of the signs in train stations and subways are written in English and the photos on their menus are very helpful. However, going there with absolutely no assistance might be difficult. Our group is from several countries around the world and in addition to English we have Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese and Russian speakers, so this may prove to be challenging.

Q: WHAT IS YOUR IMPRESSION OF THE HOTELS YOU'VE VISITED?

A: I was very impressed with the hotel options. As a general rule, the rooms are smaller than in the States, but they are larger than I expected and very adequate. Getting availability of dates was difficult, and many hotels will not book function space until a year out. I usually book hotels 18 months prior to the event. I also book directly, but I decided to contract through a destination management company, since they have extensive knowledge of the hotels and more experience in working with Japan. It was a surprise to discover that verbal contracts are the norm for many Japan businesses. Needless to say, this causes concern to us contract-sensitive Americans, but so far we have managed to reach agreements that satisfy both parties.

Q: HOW HELPFUL HAVE THE CVBS AND TOURIST ORGANIZATIONS BEEN FOR YOU?

A: The Japan National Tourism Organization and various local convention and visitors bureaus and a DMC were all so professional and helpful. I cannot express my gratitude for all of their valuable assistance and insight. They assisted with preparing for my site visit, completed a comprehensive grid of the hotels I was to visit, and accompanied me to assist with translations and all of my questions. Their help and guidance made my site visit to Japan very successful and provided the tools I need to help make our 2008 incentive program a success.

Planning for the Japan conference has been both frustrating and rewarding. In some ways it has been the most challenging and in other ways I have never received a warmer reception or more assistance. Like the country itself, planning for the conference has been an exercise in contrasts.

© Meeting and Convention Magazine

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