Terrie's Take 951 (Tourism Edition) - Japan Travel -- Several Pivots Later and Many Lessons Learned

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Sun Jul 1 23:27:56 JST 2018

* * * * * * * * 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, July 01, 2018, Issue No. 951

SUBSCRIBE to, UNSUBSCRIBE from Terrie's Take at: 

+++ Japan Travel -- Several Pivots Later and Many Lessons Learned

Some thoughts in today's Take about pivoting and how to survive the 
process. In Japan Travel's case, even the original business itself was a 

The www.japantravel.com website and Japan Travel KK company were both 
started in December, 2013, but the idea and test version of the site 
came in mid-2011, shortly after the devastating 3/11 Tohoku earthquake. 
Some readers will recall our test site going by the URL 
www.japantourist.jp. The central idea behind it was that we as a group 
of long-term resident foreigners in Japan, wanted to do something to 
help the country after the Fukushima nuclear accident (which scared away 
more than 500,000 foreign residents). It wasn't just about reassuring 
those who had fled that most of the country was still perfectly safe, 
but also to reach out to first-time visitors and let them know that, 
yes, Fukushima was bad, but pretty much everywhere else was 
radiation-free. We used to take scintillator readings every morning, and 
compare the background radiation levels in Tokyo with those in Hong 
Kong. (Hint: HK's levels were higher.)

http://bit.ly/2yZr6SH [SCMP:: Safecast.org says HK radiation levels 
higher than Tokyo.]

Like many others in the original www.japantourist.jp community, the 
nuclear accident affected me personally by creating a perfect storm for 
my then-paper publishing business - whereby almost all my readers and 
sponsors left the country in one massive wave. For many of my best 
customers, expat families and those in the financial sector, the 
departure was permanent, as Singapore and Hong Kong happily gave them 
and their companies alternative residence.

In the business vacuum that followed, I realized that for the first time 
in a long time I was being gifted with one of those life-changing 
opportunities to choose my future path - a personal pivot. My decision 
was to take a stand and stay in Japan, but to create a new business 
model (crowdsourcing) that would promote Japan and its merits, and most 
importantly, in a way that I could work with the many others who thought 
like me and who wanted to make our combined voices heard.

Thus was borne the idea of a crowd-sourced user generated content (UGC) 
site that served as a deep travel Wiki for foreigners thinking of coming 
to Japan. Our first site, www.japantourist.jp, was launched in November 
2011 with a press conference that drew a rather modest audience of just 
2 magazines and 3 online sites. Despite the lack of media interest, the 
timing for www.japantourist.jp as a unified passion-driven community was 
perfect, and in the following 2 years we grew to a community of 
thousands, with our multilingual contributors producing hundreds of 
articles and photo stories a month.

In fact, things were going so well that by the end of 2013, with the 
concurrent change of government and PM Abe's measures to mend the 
economy by forcing down the yen and opening up visa issuances to Chinese 
nationals, it was obvious that we should incorporate and turn the travel 
community experiment into an actual company. We took many risks 
monkeying with the business at that point - changing the company name, 
changing the domain name and in the process killing off our existing 
brandname recognition, and completely rebuilding the technology platform 
to be more scalable and flexible. For myself, this was the peak of the 
start-up experience and I became more convinced than ever that we really 
could become THE leading inbound travel media site for Japan.

But fate had some diversions in store first...

As we quickly found out, there is a huge gap between an online social 
effort that we all believed in, and actually building a company that 
could earn enough revenue to pay people's salaries. Mid-2014 brought 
with it some serious decisions to be made about budget, hiring staff, 
filling roles that would make the business work (sales staff, engineers, 
managers, etc.), and I took a step out over a mental abyss, committing 
funds from friends and family to make it happen. Our business model at 
the time was pretty simple: get lots of page views, sell lots of 
advertising, and keep growing.

[Continued below...]

----------------- Mt. Fuji Long Ride ----------------------
       (Event Tickets and a Day Tour from Tokyo)

Do not miss the chance on being a part of the iconic Mount Fuji Long 
Ride cycling event. Discover and explore the breathtakingly picturesque 
Fuji Five Lakes area on your bike. Make new friends and meet old ones. 
Choose one of the three offered courses that fits you best, get geared 
up and head for the event on your own, or join our rental bike-and-gear 
inclusive day tour from Tokyo.

Date: September 9th, 2018
Shop the event tickets here: https://bit.ly/2ty5EiD
Shop the tour here: https://bit.ly/2lATwc5

By late that year, however, it was obvious that although the platform 
and the site were performing, the business itself wasn't getting the 
revenue we expected. We were learning the hard way that although inbound 
travel was indeed a hot business sector, most companies already in 
travel were busy and the last thing they needed was ads. On the other 
hand, the many peripheral companies looking on with envy were being 
extremely cautious about joining the party, not least of which because 
they were language-challenged, were bereft of business planners and 
managers who understood the needs of foreign travelers, and because they 
didn't have the marketing clout to compete with the global travel 
brands. Think of the Expedia's, the Trip Advisors, and such like.

We were of course aware of the competitive threat of the big foreign 
online brands when we first started out. Our solution was to offer 
significantly deeper and more complete local information - thanks to our 
nationwide resident community - and attract users looking beyond the 
usual attractions. Indeed, that audience did find us and today we 
receive more than a million unique visitors a month on our various 
media. But back then, even with a strong web site, we were caught in a 
fledgling market where the biggest potential sponsors were themselves 
neophytes. Not a situation conducive to financial security..!.

Another thing we didn't count on was the reluctance of the local online 
travel firms to enter the inbound sector. We had expected that we would 
become a natural ally and partner, providing both content and traffic as 
they ramped up their services. But instead of fighting the foreign 
brands, many of these local players preferred to roll over and give up. 
To be fair this was probably a reasonable response, since back in 
2014-2015 it wasn't all that clear that the inbound travel sector was 
going to grow quite as explosively as it did.

I very much remember a visit with Ikkyu, one of the largest Japanese 
online travel players, where the manager quickly shut down our proposal 
of working together (we wanted access to their domestic travel 
inventory) with the statement that he had no plans to compete in the 
inbound sector because the situation was already too overwhelming and 
they were too far behind the foreign brands. This same admission of 
defeat was re-played repeatedly as we visited with Yahoo, 4travel.com, 
and various others.

By mid-2015 it was obvious that we needed to pivot, and soon. This was a 
difficult choice to make, because not only did we have to divert 
financial and human resources to a new direction that was unproven, but 
also that we had to cut back on the existing media advertising business 
to do so. With the sword cutting both ways, we wanted to hedge our bets 
by leveraging the one thing that really differentiated us - our 
contributor community, which by that time had grown to almost 20,000 
people. About 10% of them lived in Japan, and the others were in 
countries around the world that spoke one of the 13 languages that we 
now supported.

[Continued below...]

--------------- Alishan 30th Anniversary! -----------------

Join us for our 12th annual Food Carnival and 30th Anniversary base, to 
be held at the Alishan Organic Center. Whether it's a family day out or 
a first date, a market can be the best way to spend a warm summer day 
surrounded by lush green nature and live music. Just a train ride from 
the city center, you can sit back and relax and immerse yourself in the 
fresh air. Numerous workshops are planned throughout the day from a Bean 
to Bar workshop to an easy guided hike on Hiwada mountain. You can also 
enjoy a bite to eat at the authentic food and farmers market, as we 
celebrate this year with the theme of "Beans" and introduce various 
vegetarian dishes brought to you fresh from our kitchen.

When: Saturday, July 14th from 10:30~16:00, Rain or Shine!
Where: Alishan Organic Center
Address: 185-2 Koma hongo, Hidaka-shi, Saitama, Japan (042-982-4823)
More info: https://goo.gl/DB9Ty7

Luckily some brainstorming gave us the first part of our pivot, which 
was the re-application of our community. Instead of chasing advertising 
dollars (although we still sell ads online) we started selling UCG 
content authoring services to local governments and large corporations. 
Our massive numbers and ability to cover the entire country hit a chord 
with the many local government tourism bureaus who were just starting to 
think about how to draw traffic away from Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka. This was 
also the time when Low-Cost Carrier airlines (LCCs) really started 
hitting their stride and who were encouraging repeat travelers to 
explore more of Japan outside the golden triangle.

The second part of our pivot came from the simple logic that if we 
couldn't make money from advertisers we should offer services to those 
who do have the budget - the tourists themselves. It was for this reason 
that we did another fundraise, and with that money went out and bought 
ourselves a Type 2 travel agency license, along with the 
regulatory-required staff to operate that agency. This was a big leap in 
faith, but again, the timing was right and this business has since grown 

A Travel Agency license? Isn't the bulk of Free Independent Traveler 
(FIT) travel now booked online? Yes, but as we have discovered, there is 
still a very healthy number of travelers who need personal consulting 
help for their trips. Think wealthy travelers looking for unique 
experiences, and lots of groups, such as: large families, special 
interest groups, sports groups, school groups, company incentive travel 
groups, special needs groups, etc.

The good news is that both pivot efforts have been successful, and Japan 
Travel KK is now in a good place. But in the back of my mind, while I'm 
grateful for the stability that we have found through our "niche" lines 
of business, I nonetheless want to grow the company to the original 
vision of being a change maker and trusted leader online. Just where do 
we get the leverage to do that? Well, in the absence of millions of 
dollars of funding and engineering wonders, and despite the many 
business adjustments made so far, sometimes you have to be true to your 
original passion - and so we will continue developing our contributor 

Japan Travel has had at least 3 pivots to get to this point, and each as 
been an evolutionary step in survival. The lessons learned are that the 
learning never stops, especially in this very crowded and competitive 
sector. As Steve Jobs famously said, "...about half of what separates 
the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure 

So for this reason, Japan Travel last month revisited its beginnings by 
hiring its first full-time community manager (versus a part-time one) 
since I personally stepped down from that role several years ago and got 
distracted with funding, engineering, and establishing the resources 
that came after the first pivot. Our new community manager, Sebastien 
Duval, has the explicit mandate of not only managing the current 
community but also rolling out a new vision called "Community V2.0" 
which opens up our systems and newly-acquired agency know-how to 
individuals and partners who want to provide services to the travel 
sector but who don't have the resources to do so.

In other words, more risk, more learning, and more opportunities - I'll 
report more on our progress in coming weeks.

...The information janitors/


--------------- Cycle Japan's Highest Road ----------------

Japan Travel is proud to announce the next it its "Explore Japan" series 
of get-aways. This time it's our Cycling and Sightseeing Tour from the
Japanese Alps to Kyoto, scheduled to run from September 1 - 10, 2018. A 
highlight of the tour is traversing Japan's highest road.

Join this carefully designed bike tour for advanced cyclists, and get 
ready to explore the nature, history and culture of Japan along stunning
rural roads and the famous Nakasendo Trail and through the ancient 
capital of Kyoto. For this special tour, Japan Travel partners up with 
Peter Link, a knowledgeable, experienced and reputable guide and cyclist 
who will bring you the best of Japan and make sure your trip is truly 

Shop the tour here: http://bit.ly/2jX9kFv


SUBSCRIBERS: 6,098 members as of Jul 01, 2018 (We purge our list regularly.)


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

HELP: E-mail Terrie-request at mailman.japaninc.com with the word 'help' in 
the subject or body (don't include the quotes), and you will get back a
message with instructions.

Send letters (Feedback, Inquiries & Information) to the editor to 
terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com.

For more information on advertising in this newsletter, contact 
ads at japaninc.com.

Get Terrie's Take by giving your name and email address at 
http://www.japaninc.com/newsletters/free_sign_up, or go straight to
Mailman at: http://mailman.japaninc.com/mailman/listinfo/terrie

http://www.japaninc.com/terries_take or, 

Copyright 2018 Japan Inc. Communications Inc.

----------------- Japan Inc opens up Japan ----------------

J at pan Inc authoritatively chronicles business trends in Japan. Each 
posting brings you in-depth analysis of business, people and technology
in the world's third largest economy.

Visit www.japaninc.com for the best business insight on Japan available.

More information about the Terrie mailing list