Terrie's Take 848 -- Adventure Tourism is One Way to Unlock Regional Economies

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Apr 25 09:51:44 JST 2016

* * * * * * * * 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, April 24, 2016, Issue No. 848

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+++ Adventure Tourism is One Way to Unlock Regional Economies

One of the biggest reasons I got into the inbound travel business after 
the 3/11 earthquake was the desire to do something socially meaningful 
-- especially after having experienced how the "hand of god" can so 
easily disrupt our lives and plans. It wasn't hard to find something 
meaningful to target. Post-earthquake I visited Kitakyushu, my wife's 
home town, and was struck by how the local population was getting 
noticeably older and the roads notably less congested each year that 
passes by. Watching an old farmer lady bent over with arthritis making 
her way down a country lane hauling a basket of veges, I realized that 
inbound tourism might have the capacity to not only bring money back to 
these backwater parts of Japan, but more importantly, jobs, and thus 
bring about the return of the region's young people as well.

So here I am in 2016 in the midst of choosing travel agent systems, 
developing tours, building contributor and user communities around the 
world, and generally doing the million and one things that involve 
getting a start-up off the ground. Those tasks not withstanding, what 
really gets me excited is how to send more foreign tourists to Akita, 
Miyazaki, Kochi, or a hundred other places that foreign tourists have 
never heard of (and that Japanese seldom travel to, either). Luckily, 
this is the same question that a lot of commercial travel operators are 
asking themselves as well - thus providing me an opportunity to 
collaborate with them to develop new business.

The nub of the commercial problem for rural operators (e.g., hotels, 
attractions operators, activities companies, etc.) in out of the way 
places is how to get more tourists and how to keep them coming. 
Generally speaking, tourists bound for rural areas fall into two camps: 
i) tour groups resulting from an operator who has picked that region for 
the tour, and ii) Free Independent Travelers (FIT) travelers, who 
"explore" a region, find what they want, and keep coming back for more.

Some familiar examples are: mainland Chinese buying apartments in Yufuin 
(Kyushu onsen spot), Taiwanese making gourmet pitstops in Fukuoka now 
that V-Air offers return airfares for just JPY10,000, and Australians 
flocking to Hokkaido ski fields and perhaps buying a chalet in the 
process. While all three examples (bathing, eating, doing) are 
attractive, it's the "doing", specifically, adventure tourism, that I 
want to discuss today.

[Continued below...]

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The United Nation's World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has plenty to say 
on the subject of adventure tourism. In a 2014 report now available on 
Skift, they state, "Tourism is one of the most rapidly growing sectors 
in the world, and adventure tourism is one of its fastest growing 
categories. Increasingly, countries in all stages of economic 
development are prioritizing adventure tourism for market growth, 
because they recognize its ecological, cultural, and economic value."

If you ask me, this sounds like a perfect recipe for Japan's ailing 
regions -- providing inbound tourists with memorable adventures which 
influence them to tell their friends and thus create a viral and 
virtuous cycle of promotion.

You can read the UNWTO report here:


The typical profile of an adventure tourist, according to the UNWTO, is 
someone who is: i) passionate and risk-taking, ii) has a specific 
purpose for traveling, iii) is willing to pay a premium for exciting and 
authentic experiences, iv) values the natural environment, and, most 
importantly, v)  tends to want to REPEAT the same quality of experience 
each time they travel. They also travel more frequently in pursuit of 
their favorite activity, they stay longer (on average, at least a day 
longer), and tend to have invested in their gear and so have a strong 
sense of commitment.

I'll note that while the UNWTO report mostly focuses on FIT travelers, 
it also makes the point that since many overseas group and package tour 
travelers travel after booking with foreign agencies and airlines, 
something that is especially true in Japan's case, that if local 
governments and local travel operators want more foreign tourists on a 
sustained basis they need to plug directly into the foreign travel 
companies at the planning level. This means the locals need to invest 
time and money into developing long-term international relationships 
themselves at a micro level, versus leaving it all to JTA or JNTO. Right 
now I don't see this happening, which is why I think adventure tourism 
is an exciting field for a new business to enter.

JTA and JNTO don't "get" adventure tourism in Japan, you only need to 
see their packages and marketing to realize that. Almost everything they 
are churning out spells "polite control" - heavily scheduled tours, 
travel by train that limits travelers to places with stations, and 
activities restricted to looking or tasting and not much else. No risk, 
no haste, no activity, and no adventure. In fact, Japanese tours as they 
are sold at the moment are essentially "old people's tourism", a term I 
used to use in the early days of JapanTravel.com but don't any more 
because it upsets too many people... ;-)

The UNWTO categorizes adventure tourism into the following categories: 
"Soft", "Hard", and "Other", with the categorization being based on 
whether the primary activity requires significant skill and exertion to 
perform. By this definition I can say that the immediate opportunity for 
Japan adventure travel operators is in the Soft category -- which 
luckily includes a huge range of activities and most of which Japan is 
either already good at or could be good at if suitable operators were to 
appear. Mostly the infrastructure is already there. While the government 
may not be up to speed, individual players can certainly see the 
opportunities and this is why JTB recently put JPY600MM of funding into 
Asoview, Japan's largest activities portal.

=> Soft
* Archeological expeditions, Backpacking, Birdwatching, Camping, 
Canoeing, Eco-tourism, Educational programs, Environmentally sustainable 
activities, Hiking, Horseback riding, Hunting, Kayaking/sea/whitewater, 
Orienteering, Rafting, Research expeditions, Safaris, Sailing, Scuba 
Diving, Snorkeling, Skiing/snowboarding

=> Hard
* Caving, Climbing (mountain/rock/ice), Trekking

=> Other
* Attending local festival/fairs, Cruises, Cultural activities, Getting 
to know the locals, Learning a new language, Walking tours, Visiting 
friends/family, Visiting historical sites, Volunteer Tourism

The same report also had a special mention for cycling, which it points 
out gets travelers off the beaten path and in closer contact with 
locals. More importantly it refers to the economic benefits of cycling, 
where traveler spending goes directly to remote locations, and how the 
promise of even more such visitors is causing local governments to 
invest heavily in infrastructure to draw even more cyclists.

I can see the cycling phenomenon already at work in the Noto Peninsula, 
northwest of Kyoto, where the Ishikawa Prefectural government has 
invested in many kilometers of picturesque cycleways next to the ocean 
right around the peninsula. The trip takes 5-7 days, and these cycling 
groups need places to stay and things to do, in areas that previously 
saw few foreign tourists. Another great example is Ehime Prefecture's 
wonderful Shimanami Kaido cycleway, which island and bridge hops its way 
over to Shikoku from Honshu.

So what is needed to create a niche business in the adventure tourism 

Firstly you need a compelling adventure, sexed up with an inspirational 
theme, beautiful photos, and some early customer endorsements. Whatever 
it is, your adventure needs to be appealing enough that people will 
travel out of their way and spend a number of days in order to 
experience it. This means that instead of just focusing on canoes and 
hotels, throw in some riverside camping and whitewater, maybe a ghost 
story or two, and focus on the ecology and the excitement of the 
experience. And in case you're wondering about profitability, I know 
several operators already working on a 50% profit margin before 
marketing costs.

Secondly you need high-grade gear to service the adventure, be it 
horses, acqualungs, canoes, chase cars, tour leaders, etc. This sounds 
more daunting than it is. There are plenty of companies selling these 
products/contractors, who will do a deal in return for a share of the 
action (i.e., a shared-risk partnership), or if you have more of a risk 
appetite yourself, look for someone who will let you lease over 3-4 
years. Now that "in-boundo" is the new buzz word in Japanese media, once 
they hear the business plan you may have just created a way for them to 
participate in the boom that until now they didn't have. The collective 
desire to benefit from the inbound tourism boom is strong.

Thirdly you need available infrastrucure, so that hotel, bus, and other 
providers don't strangle your capacity or price you out of existence. 
Luckily the nature of adventure tourism is such that you can move to 
even more remote locations if the major centers are busy or difficult. 
Nonetheless, this is an area where you can go to local government and 
ask them for help to get more tourists in. Ask them to locate minshuku 
and guest houses that will collaborate, or have them talk to the local 
bus company about putting on some more routes/departures to handle your 
needs. This is normally difficult to do, but luckily you have that 
"in-boundo" buzz word reaching the subconscious of even the most 
internet-disconnected oji-san senior managers these days. So you could 
become a local solution versus a local irritation.

Lastly, you need proper packaging and marketing, which thankfully is 
getting a lot easier these days now that Global Distribution Systems 
(GDS) operators such as hotelbeds.com are starting to open up in Japan.


Note: As Golden Week is coming up, I'll be out cycling and catching up 
on chores around the house, so I will be off for 2 weeks from next week. 
Back with my next Take on May 15th, 2016.

...The information janitors/


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