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British Prime Minister Blairís Working Weekend in Onna Village

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-09-22

In this, the last of our series focusing on the hotels that played host to the world leaders who visited Okinawa for the Group of Eight Summit, we visit the Renaissance Okinawa Resort Hotel where British Prime Minister Tony Blair stayed.

Although Tony Blair had no time to play with dolphins and tended not to finish the glasses of goya juice given to him, he seems to have left a favorable impression on his hosts. One of the other hoteliers interviewed in this series who saw all the G-8 leaders close up, thought he was the most personable and charming. Descriptions used by Renaissance staff were ďfriendlyĒ and ďa gentlemanĒ.

The Renaissance accommodated a group of about 50 British guests, including around 20 press and government information people. They put up a much larger delegation of Japanese government officials at the same time, some 200. The hotel knew a year before the Summit that it would be hosting a Group of Eight leader, but not which one until February this year.

Renaissance staffers Nakayama Naoki and Fukuhara Kinuyo said the British were not difficult to please and made no special demands that strained the resources of the hotel or set conditions that were hard to meet.

They said that in contrast their own government people were less easy to deal with because of the impossibility of speaking to them directly. Approaches always had to be made through the relevant offices or sections and the right ones had to be tracked down through a bureaucratic maze.

The Foreign Ministry section deciding which hotels would host which leaders also made their decisions late, so hoteliers had less time than they would have liked to arrange everything to their satisfaction. It was not until May that U.K. government officials came to Okinawa to start planning Summit logistics.

Nine Tokyo British Embassy staff stayed in Okinawa three days to prepare for their Prime Ministerís visit and two hotel staff went to Tokyo for an equal period. The Hotelís General Manager speaks good English and he found the Summit preparations straightforward.

Blair seems to have been unobtrusive during his stay at the Renaissance, taking all his meals in his suite on the 11th floor, except for a brunch party he gave the day after he arrived. This was on his return from a visit and speech he made in to a junior high school in Chatan. Another group of children from a school in Yamada staged his welcome ceremony, a Tanchame traditional drum and dance performance in the lobby of the hotel.

A cook was brought for the Prime Minister from the Marriot Hotel in London, part of the same group as the Renaissance, but most of the catering was handled by the hotelís own chefs. One item which appeared not to have been well received was goya juice. Glasses of it were left undrained by the Prime Minister.

The only surprise sprung on the hotel staff was the sudden unannounced appearance of European Commissioner Romano Prodi, calling to see Blair.

Security, as with the other political leaders attending the Summit, was tight. The Renaissanceís swimming pool was closed after Blairís arrival for security reasons. But the British felt this was an unreasonable restriction on the hotelís Japanese guests and asked for it to be opened as normal.

Blair, like all the other G-8 leaders did not venture onto the beach, a few tempting yards from the building. But once the Summit was over some of the embassy staff made sure they sampled some of Okinawaís surf and sand. Blair went against the wishes of his own and Japanese security staff by insisting on posing for photographs with all the hotel staff, both on his arrival and departure.

In a profile in Londonís Financial Times newspaper Renaissance staff learned that Blair liked the Beatles record In My Life. A copy was borrowed from the owner of The Double Decker British pub in Mihama and it was played for the Prime Minister on his last day in Okinawa. Another reminder of home was the sight of a Rolls Royce owned by the hotel parked outside. Blair was surprised and remarked on it.

The Renaissance General Manager greeted Blair dressed in a tropical colored shirt. When Blair complimented him on it, he said it had been bought in his honor. The Mayor of Onna, at the GMís suggestion, also greeted Blair in similarly colorful garb.

Although the visit went smoothly and Renaissance staff described Blair as ďfriendlyĒ and ďa gentlemanĒ, the Summit weekend appears to have been strictly a working one. The advance party of diplomats preparing for the visit of Blairís entourage made plans for some recreation for the Prime Ministerís party. They discussed tennis, swimming and one of the hotelís unusual programs for its guests, physical contact in the water with dolphins. In the end though, the G-8 Summit schedule left no time for these diversions before Blair and his group headed back to London.

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