Terrie's Take 832 (Tourism Edition) -- Why Niseko is a Model for Other Tourism Developments

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Sun Dec 13 23:49:15 JST 2015

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie 
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Dec 13, 2015, Issue No. 832

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+++ Why Niseko is a Model for Other Tourism Developments

The UK's second largest daily newspaper, the Daily Mail, ran an 
enthusiastic travel article on its December 12th web page about the 
virtues of skiing at Niseko, in Hokkaido. The journalist, Ted Thornhill, 
obviously had such a good time skiing there that he commented on the 
quality of the powder no less than eight times. Other adjectives he 
used, in good British daily news tradition, were "magnificent", 
"amazing", "striking", "eye-popping", "eye-catching", and even 
"ridiculous" (used in the positive UK way)... well you do get the 
feeling that Mr. Thornhill enjoyed his trip.

Hopefully that means some of the Daily Mail's almost 4m readers will be 
prompted to explore more online about Hokkaido powder over the next few 
weeks and eventually make their way there.

You can read his article in all its tabloid glory here:


It's not news that foreign journalists are writing nice things about 
Japanese locations. Although it is highly possible that his trip was 
paid for by the tourism authorities here in Japan -- something that 
isn't unusual because other countries do the same. Rather, what caught 
our attention about this story is the way that Mr. Thornhill wrote it so 
that his readers could relate to Niseko without knowing the place, by 
referencing the things that mattered to him (and thus presumably to his 
readers as well).

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Tabloids around the world survive by understanding their readers 
intimately and entertaining them. The Daily Mail's readership is largely 
middle class and more than 50% female. This means many of them probably 
either already ski in France, or have friends who do, and they do like 
their comforts while on holiday. Mr. Thornhill surely knows this, and so 
he writes with frequent reference to familiar locations like the Espace 
Killy region in France, and how although the number of runs in Niseko 
are limited they are none-the-less comparable.

It's no accident Thornhill chose this French region as his reference 
point, because the area was ranked in 2012 as one of the top three ski 
destinations for Britons by www.skiclub.co.uk. The Ski Club is Britain's 
largest ski organization, with about 29,000 members, and its site is 
somewhat of a skiers' bible which provides copious information about 
skiing destinations around the world. Interestingly, it currently ranks 
Niseko as a 4-star location, the same as the Tignes area that Thornhill 
was comparing it to. So, in this regard, even though his sponsors may 
not realize it, Thornhill is doing Niseko a huge favor by making the 

Just as important are his many references (and some great photos) to the 
upmarket accommodation he used, as well as the food and nightlife in 
Niseko and nearby Hirafu. Although I'm not sure whether he thought it 
was a good thing, he mentions several times how popular both locations 
are with the Australians -- which at least reassures readers in the UK 
that the place can't be too alien if Aussies are enjoying it. After all, 
they know how to have a good time... :-)

This one article could be turned into a marketing lesson for Japanese 
tourism authorities, because it shows very clearly the hot buttons an 
experienced opinion-leader (in this case, a tabloid journalist) presses 
to engage his audience. These hot buttons will of course be different 
for each culture and society, but to win in the global market the trick 
for Japan is to understand that there are also some constants -- such as 
visual wow factor, actual quality of the activity (skiing), convenience, 
and creature comforts.

An important lesson for the Japan Tourism Agency, and the bureaucrats 
who control its budget, is that making world-class ski resorts is not 
achieved by slapping some paint on decrepit buildings of the type you 
usually find in Japan's ramshackle ski towns and resorts, and making a 
pretty brochure. Instead, you need serious investment in facilities and 
a policy to beautify the entire area. It beats us why the government, 
with its huge budgets for subsidies to soon-to-be-obsolete rice farmers 
and concrete ugliness along the nation's coastline, can't figure that out.

In Italy some 20 years ago, the country decided to prioritize 
agritourism by helping those farmers wanting to attract more guests by 
making property improvements, by providing easy loans and tax benefits. 
As a result, Italy now has about 7% of its inbound tourists staying at 
farms, allowing farmers to stay on their land and for their families to 
have decent lives. Japan could do the same if it wanted, instead of just 
dumping short-term subsidy money into their bank accounts. We referred 
to this back in August 2014 in Terrie's Take 769.


Using Niseko as a role model, apart from the fact that the location 
received substantial amounts of investment, another key factor in its 
success was that the development was mostly led by a group of foreigners 
(Australians) rather than local Japanese. This foreign vision of 
creating a little ski utopia in Japan was critical in creating 
facilities which are today world-class and yet still accessible to small 
investors, and where the original planners are still involved. Usually 
resort developers are white-shirted beancounters based in Tokyo, so the 
resulting facilities are either gutted by cost-cutting measures, or 
garish monstrosities. So our advice is to get some professionally-minded 
foreign investors in on each project at the start -- people who want to 
keep using the place long after it's developed and who will therefore 
try harder to make the result work.

Going back to the lessons to be drawn from this article, as the Japanese 
government considers how to attract tourists to other locations around 
the country, they need to understand that citizens other than the 
newly-rich of China will come to Japan IF they can have a world-class 
experience. People will enjoy the exotic nature of Japan so long as they 
can also be pampered by all senses, not just by mouth. This means going 
beyond food, and making the destinations aesthetically (or dramatically) 
pleasing, properly upgrading them for convenience with technology, and 
pitching them as social melting pots (language, facilities, access, 
etc.) so as to attract other internationalized guests that foreign 
visitors can socialize with. I realize this last point could be 
difficult in resorts that have entrenched old-fashioned Japanese 
oji-sans running them.

Niseko manages to do all of the above because it was almost a greenfield 
project, and some of the original builders and their friends continue to 
invest and use the place. This could be a blueprint for locations 
stretching from the languishing ski fields of Honshu all the way down to 
the islands of Okinawa. How this philosophy could be encapsulated in 
government legislation and policy could be the subject of another 
Terrie's Take, but certainly they could start with tax exemptions 
(especially inheritance tax) and visa preferences for foreigners 
building second homes in designated resort locations in Japan.

Another more challenging but even more interesting stimulus would be for 
the government to designate certain Japanese banks to work closely with 
foreign banks (who have foreign customer data) to offer foreign 
investors low-interest home loans on 30%-down mortgages for resort 
properties. Such a program would likely kick off a land rush in 
currently-depressed resort areas all over the country, and contribute 
magnificently to the government's inflation goals.

This is my last Terrie's Take of this year (although I will put out a 
short Christmas notice next week). I will be back on deck with the New 
Year's edition on January 10th, 2016. In the meantime, I wish everyone, 
irrespective of their religion, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 
Thank you so much for reading the Take. I sincerely appreciate it.

...The information janitors/


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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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