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IIST e-Magazine (For the Japanese version of this article)

Series: Growing Inbound Tourism (Part 6) Okinawan Government and Private Sector Collaborate to Make Okinawa the World’s Top Wedding Resort Mecca Akihiko Uechi Okinawa Resort Wedding Association (Representative Director, Sunnet corporation) [Date of Issue: 31/May/2017 No.0267-1044]

Date of Issue: 31/May/2017

Series: Growing Inbound Tourism (Part 6)
Okinawan Government and Private Sector Collaborate to Make Okinawa the World's Top Wedding Resort Mecca

Akihiko Uechi
Okinawa Resort Wedding Association
(Representative Director, Sunnet corporation)

To promote Okinawa's growing resort wedding industry, we are utilizing local industry resources and taking advantage of the region's proximity to neighboring countries/ regions as well as the diverse needs of a social media age to make Okinawa the world's top resort wedding mecca.


Birth of Okinawa resort weddings as a new tourism option

More and more resort weddings are being held in Okinawa every year. Who would have imagined that they would become such a popular tourism option? It began rather modestly back in 1999 when one resort hotel in Okinawa built a cute little chapel so that couples from outside the prefecture could come to Okinawa to tie the knot.

The only growing bridal market in Japan

The number of couples holding resort weddings in Okinawa reached a record 15,399 in 2016, while the number of international couples grew around 28 percent on the previous year to 1,867, representing an inbound share of close to 20 percent (March 23, 2017, Okinawa Tourism Promotion Office).

Trend in the number of resort weddings held in Okinawa
Okinawa's mild climate and average annual temperature of 22.7 degrees make it a great place for resort weddings. Wedding businesses incorporate Okinawa's enormous originality into their wedding menus, drawing on and developing the islands' sultry tropical settings, unconventional style and other unique elements, including, for example, decking wedding participants out in Okinawa's bright Hawaiian-style shirts. They also highlight Okinawa's image as a great place for people to come relax and enjoy themselves.

The future shape of Okinawa's tourism

So many more planes are flying in and out of Okinawa these days—123 per day from 23 cities within Japan, and 199 per week from outside Japan. The Okinawa Convention & Visitors Bureau (OCVB) predicts that by 2030, the number of tourists visiting Okinawa will reach 8.23 million from within Japan and seven million from overseas. To achieve those levels, Okinawa Prefecture and the OCVB have been working hard to attract visitors and develop the necessary infrastructure to deal with them. Once a second runway is added to Naha Airport in 2020, visitor numbers should grow even further.

Okinawa resort weddings boost Okinawa's inbound share

Among international couples holding resort weddings in Okinawa in 2016, the number of Hong Kong couples increased by around 40 percent on the previous year to 1,065, while the number of Taiwanese couples grew by around 28 percent to 550. The main causes for this growth were the popularity of weddings in view of the sea, etc., and the growing popularity of photo weddings. Other reasons include the rising popularity among Hong Kong couples of legal weddings (weddings conducted overseas pursuant to local laws), increasing awareness in Hong Kong of Okinawa resort weddings, and measures put in place in Okinawa to deal with international couples' weddings. In addition, a lot of people come to Okinawa for the first time for these resort weddings, creating Okinawa fans who return again and again.

No.of couples visiting Okinawa by country/region (2011-2016)
Role of the Okinawa Resort Wedding Association

The Okinawa Resort Wedding Association was established in 2011 to boost the status of and advance Okinawa resort weddings. Where the initial membership was 30 companies, by March 2017 this had grown to 99, 35 of which are companies with chapels which conduct wedding ceremonies, as well as companies that don't have such facilities but provide photos, etc., using Okinawa's beaches and tourist resources. Most other member companies are involved in gifts, marine sports, hotels, beauty treatments, Okinawa's Hawaiian-style shirts, traditional crafts, restaurants, and information provision, effectively embracing the whole span of Okinawa's industry. We also have 20 member companies from outside Okinawa, including some from Korea, with the Association's membership becoming increasingly global. Member companies engage actively in sales promotion activities both individually and jointly, working to establish an Okinawa resort wedding brand. The Association also holds a fair every year in Tokyo as part of its ongoing promotion campaign.

Mission of the Okinawa Resort Wedding Association

Aiming to utilize Okinawa's regional industrial resources to make Okinawa the world's resort wedding mecca based on the slogan “Okinawa's Paradise for the World's Lovers,” the Okinawa Resort Wedding Association has adopted the following three missions:
» To contribute to the development of Okinawa tourism
» To contribute to economic advance through coexistence with local companies
» To develop Okinawa into a world-leading resort wedding mecca

Okinawa is blessed with numerous wedding resources right up alongside those of Hawaii, including facilities with amazing views of beaches, the sea and the sky. It also has a huge range of tourism resources such as marine sports, shopping, gourmet eating, beauty treatments, and traditional culture. Fun for couples, and even more fun for families, Okinawa weddings offer an excitingly full menu of activities.

Okinawa wedding image
Leading the way to becoming a world number one

(1) First establish the Okinawa wedding resort brand in Japan
By instituting the Okinawa Resort Wedding Support Declaration as a Japan-first collaborative effort among cities, towns and villages through the Declarations of Support for Regional Specialties initiative (operated by the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency to promote efforts to create regional brands), Okinawa has successfully secured national-level backup and developed Japan's first Regional Industrial Resource Utilization Support Plan to emerge from a general incorporated association. This has set in place the conditions for major progress with product and service development for wedding services right through to related industries including gifts and services.

(2) Resolving current inbound tourism issues and ensuring that negative comments do not spread through social media
One major challenge has been legal weddings held by couples from Hong Kong in particular. With local registrars long struggling just to deal with the local population, issuing wedding certificates to visitors from Hong Kong requires deciphering the personal information sent by couples from overseas and processing this under Japanese law, which has meant a two-month lead on applications. Moreover, having around 20 companies making applications on behalf of international couples also created various problems also arose. The Legal Affairs Bureau, municipal authorities and the Okinawa Wedding Resort Association therefore joined forces to develop a common approach, holding regular meetings, etc., to enable registrar offices to issue wedding certificates for international couples with a smile. This is the first group in Japan to undertake such an initiative.

(3) Creating a policy on measures to protect the resource of “Japanese-ness”
The manners of international visitors to Japan is often raised as an issue, and Okinawa weddings are no exception—people walking into chapel facilities without permission and taking photos and videos, for example, as well as “guerilla photography” at scenic and photo spots. There have also been numerous cases of visitors walking on to private property around famous photo spots and taking down washing that is obstructing their shots, for example. The only solution to improving the manners of tourists from different cultures is awareness-raising from a medium to long-term perspective. The Association has released rules on guerilla photography, as well as spotlighting ethical photography businesses (Association members). The tourism industry is extremely important to Okinawa and we need not only industry personnel but also ordinary citizens to be able to welcome tourists with warm hearts. The first step in that regard is to clarify the rules and enable locals to greet tourists with a friendly smile.

Sea of Okinawa
Creating a world number one from Okinawa

The goal set by Okinawa Prefecture and the Association is 20,000 couples by 2020. At the point when Okinawa achieves this, its inbound share is expected to reach close to 50 percent. A serious overall personnel shortfall is emerging around Japan, particularly in the service industry, and Okinawa's resort wedding business is no exception. However, the Association plans to also bring overseas companies on board as members, and create a manual on how to provide Japanese-style hospitality. International visitors have high expectations of Japanese service. Meeting those expectations will be a key condition in Okinawa becoming a world-leading resort area.

We believe that our current activities, which bring even rival companies together to work on various initiatives utilizing Okinawa's abundant and attractive tourism resources toward the ambitious goal of become the world's leading resort wedding mecca, represent a strategy that will take us to number one, and the government and private sector will continue to work together to that end.

(original article : Japanese)

(For the Japanese version of this article)


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