Sport April 2011

More than Sport

Why London 2012 is also great for trade, tourism and culture

As a newspaper headline, “The Japanese are Coming,” would catch the eye of anyone involved in UK-Japan ties. And that’s exactly what happened in June 2009, when the Leicester Mercury covered the Japanese Olympic Committee’s (JOC) signing of an agreement to use Loughborough University as a pre-tournament training camp for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Because it is based near Loughborough, in the East Midlands, Business Link Japan considered the potential exciting opportunities, given that it supports trade between the UK and Japan.

A week after the signing we met Peter Hogarth, international trade director for the East Midlands at UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), and were pleasantly surprised to learn that he was thinking along similar lines. We held a brainstorming session and developed many ideas for working together. We also had a very constructive meeting with people from the British Embassy Tokyo.

It was clear that involvement held appeal for several key groups, such as the East Midlands Development Agency and Loughborough University, not to mention other business, education, tourism, culture, sporting and trade organisations.

In late 2009, Business Link Japan was commissioned by UKTI to start work on the first main event—Japan Day. The concept was soon established and a date chosen to coincide with a visit by UK Ambassador to Japan David Warren. Securing such high level and enthusiastic support gave the planning a critical start; soon then-Japanese Ambassador to the UK Shin Ebihara agreed to speak at the event. A further 14 speakers were recruited, seven sector-specific workshops were planned and, before long, exhibition space was booked up.

A wide-ranging marketing campaign started in January 2010, involving the press, direct mail, e-marketing and telesales. Interest and response levels built quickly and traffic to our website increased sharply. With the help of UKTI, we reached a wide audience and soon passed our recruiting target of 100 delegates.

Japan Day, held in mid March, was a huge success; we succeeded in igniting interest among East Midlands firms in the Japanese market, and found a broad range of businesses interested in joining a Japan Market Visit.

Southwolds Community School in Nottingham, under the direction of Japanese language teacher Anne Rajakumar, drew up a programme of language and culture days for schools, while Loughborough University sent chefs to Japan to learn how to prepare food for the expected influx of Japanese visitors.

Our next major event, in July, was a UKTI East Midlands Market Visit to Japan. Residents of Tokyo will know that late July, with its humid weather, is not the ideal time to visit, but the date was crucial, as it was two years before the Olympics.

We embarked on a recruitment campaign and quickly signed up a great cross-section of East Midlands firms. Among those to take part were artist and designer Emma Ball, Ibstock Brick Limited, advanced-technology specialists Apical Imaging, antenna producers Sarantel Group plc, clean-power systems developer Intelligent Energy, and pharmaceutical suppliers SeaBand.

The Market Visit was a great success. With the support of UKTI in Japan, we set up 92 meetings with local firms and held a reception at the embassy in Tokyo. This trade and Olympics-themed event featured guests from JOC among the more than 200 people who attended.

During the week, some £42,000 worth of orders were received but, more important, the follow-up business projected for the coming year among the 12 British firms present is almost £2mn.

The next large event targeted Japanese investors. With the East Midlands Development Agency and JETRO London, we arranged the East Midlands Technology Showcase at Loughborough University in November. The theme was low-carbon and sustainable power to exhibit the region’s expertise to a wide range of Japanese firms.

Plans are underway for the next East Midlands Japan Day and, in July, we will have another Japan Market Visit. Demand for places is already running high.

With just over a year until the Olympics, we have made great progress in building relationships between Japan and the East Midlands, and plan to step up activity in the coming months. It has been an exciting time, and it is amazing to think what can be triggered by just one headline in a local newspaper.