Incentive travel in Japan varies greatly in destination, content and theme. But which tours are the most successful? And more importantly—how can organizers learn from them to create better programs in the future?

The JAPAN Best Incentive Travel Awards are designed to answer those questions. Every year, the Japan National Tourism Organization announces the best of the best. In 2019, 68 applications were received from 13 different countries and regions.

At a ceremony held on October 23 at the historic Osaka City Central Public Hall, the Best Incentive Travel Award for 2019 went to a program called “Back to the Origins.” Organized by JTB Europe for the Honda Swiss Dealer Contest, the program took 59 participants to Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as less familiar destinations such as Kumamoto, in southwest Japan.

Judges praised the program for its variety of activities. Mitsuru Moriguchi, managing director of the trade magazine MICE Japan, noted that, “It didn’t limit itself to Honda-related affairs. The schedule gave participants a full introduction to Japanese culture, letting them experience the joy that comes from seeing new possibilities.”

Japan is well known for its mix of modern and traditional. “Back to the Origins” covered both, with visits to Kyoto’s Nijo Castle and Tokyo’s SkyTree.

But rather than simply viewing Japan’s sights, participants were encouraged to get involved. They cycled the streets, sang karaoke with a live band and enjoyed dinner at a robot restaurant. This caught the attention of another judge—Makiko Yamamoto, honorary president of the Japan Chapter of MPI (Meeting Professionals International). She saw the program as a perfect example of activity-based incentive travel, a trend in the industry.

Underlying everything was the theme of “joy,” a keyword for a company that is famous for “Three Joys”: the Joy of Buying, the Joy of Selling and the Joy of Creating. At its core, Honda aims to exceed expectations and foster happiness in both customers and dealers. In Moriguchi’s opinion, “This travel program embodied those ideals.”

The connection between Honda’s philosophy and JTB Europe’s travel program impressed Hiroshi Hiraizumi, Director of Meetings and Events Promotion at the Japan Tourism Agency. He said, “The tour is an effective example that I’d like to see applied to other Japanese businesses.”

The JAPAN Best Incentive Travel Awards underlined that incentive travel isn’t a simple matter of visiting set destinations. It’s an interactive experience, where participants get involved in both national culture and local communities.

For further details on the contest, visit:

This post is sponsored by Japan National Tourism Organization.