Terrie's Take 984 (Tourism Edition) - The Winners and Losers in the Inbound Travel Boom

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Mar 18 17:26:00 JST 2019

* * * * * * * * 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 Monday, Mar 18, 2019, Issue No. 984

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+++ The Winners and Losers in the Inbound Travel Boom

Now that we are into the sixth year of Japan's amazing inbound tourism
boom, it has become quite clear who the winners and losers are among of the
nation's regional destinations. The winners are those few iconic spots that
draw such lop-sided numbers of visitors they are bursting at the seams,
while the losers, often towns and cities only a few kilometers away, are
constantly struggling to acquire foreign visitors, no matter how much money
they throw at marketing. Think of Kyoto vs. Nara, or Osaka vs. Kobe, or
Kamakura vs. Odawara. What makes a winner and what are the common issues
for the losers? These are fundamental questions that the government and the
Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) need to figure out and take action on if they
are to spread the benefits of inbound tourism to the whole nation.

Let's recap some human psychology basics about why people want to travel in
the first place.

A. Push Factors (intrinsic desires of individual travelers)
* Rest and relaxation - Okinawa and islands
* Escape - Immersive locations like Kyoto
* Prestige - UNESCO World Heritage sites like Shiretoko and Yakushima
* Social Interaction - Pretty much any place, but you need some Japanese
language skills outside the major cities
* Adventure - Powder skiing is a huge draw for people visiting Niseko
* Health & Fitness - Winning a Japanese marathon is doable, and luckily
there are many sports events around the country
* Culture - Kyoto, Nara, places with events like Aomori's Nebuta festival
* Learning - Pretty much any place with strong skills repository, such as
Saitama for Bonsai, Arita for pottery
* Religion - Mt. Koya, Ohenro in Shikoku, and other Zen Buddhism experiences
* Business - Big Five: Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe

B. Pull Factors (assets and tangible resources of each destination)
* Affordable, safe, convenient, and value for money
* Scenic beauty and eco-tourism
* Events and activities with strong appeal
* Infrastructure and resources to support entertainment, shopping, and
* Purpose-made tourist attractions such as amusement and theme parks
(Universal gets more than 2m visitors a year)
* Well-preserved, well-presented, accessible history and culture
* Food
* Exotic atmosphere
* Adventure experiences and facilities

I think we can distill these even further - to give us 3 major motivators
why 90% of people travel to Japan's most iconic destinations:
a) They are first-time visitors and want to get a "Disneyland-eseque"
potpourri of experiences that is immersive and represents their notion of
what Japan should be.
b) They are drawn by natural beauty and authentically preserved locations,
and seek out spots that measure up on a global level. As hinted in the
list, UNESCO World Heritage sites are a good guide to destination quality
(or, sometimes, to the politics of that organization)
c) They are drawn by consumerism, mostly in the form of food and shopping.
So naturally they congregate to the locations that offer the best
selections, the best bargains, and generally the greatest convenience.

As our earlier list suggests, there are of course many other reasons for
coming to Japan, but these are more subtle motivators that I think only
kick in once the traveler has been to Japan several times and the initial
shock and wonder of the place has worn off. By this time the traveler is no
longer amazed by everything they see and taste, and instead they are
capable of more analytical thinking. From basic necessity they will have
gained some language skills which allow a deeper more meaningful
interaction with the locals, and this gives them the confidence to get off
the beaten track. In fact, for regional destinations outside the iconic
shortlist, repeat visitors are the single biggest and most important market
to target.

Our three primary motivators allow us to generalize about the winners and
losers as follows.
a) First-time visitors have a limited number of days in the country,
although this is predicated by where those people live. Asians generally
have less disposable income and certainly less free holiday time, and so
their trips tend to be shorter (3-5 days) and more intense - making them
similar to the Japanese. That's why it's been easy so far for existing
tourist operators to target Taiwanese, Koreans, and Chinese travelers.
"Intense" means lots of shopping, splurging on expensive meals, and
eye-candy site seeing. Kyoto counts as eye candy. So does Kamikochi.

[Article continues below...]

------ Terrie's Slow-Poke Cycling Tour - Kyushu -------

Last year we threatened to run a cycling tour for readers, but got too busy
to actually do it. So this year we're making amends. The first tour, which
will happen in the third or fourth week of April (just before Golden Week)
will be a 5-6 day ride in Kyushu - most likely in the Nagasaki region. This
tour, and a Hokkaido tour in late August or early September, will have a
common format.

1. The tours are potluck, not professionally run. No complaining. Jokes and
helping each other out are mandatory.
2. There will be no support cars or spare bikes or guides. Instead, we use
Google maps and take the most scenic routes to arrive at our hotels each
3. Our bags will be relayed by couriers so you can ride light. Yes, we will
have inner tubes and other basic spare parts.
4. Terrie is a slow poke, so while we will indeed be covering 80km-100km a
day, it will be take 6+ hours each day, with plenty of time for lunch,
photos, drinks, etc.
5. No hill climbing! Terrie is allergic to tall mountains.
6. Although the rides will run 5-6 days, people wanting to cut out at 3
days will be able to do so.
7. Our bikes will go with us on the Shinkansen. Terrie can show you how to
prepare and break your's down for simple transport.
8. If you don't have a road bike, you can rent one at
https://www.gsastuto.com/. [Excellent supplier, great prices.]
9. Anyone over 16, any gender, welcome.
10. There will be a JPY20,000 organizing fee per rider.
11. Other costs will all be at cost. Usually this works out to about
JPY13,000/day plus Shinkansen tickets.

If you're interested in a long, slow, fun, potluck cycling tour in Japan,
contact Terrie today and he will work with you and the rest of the group to
set the final dates and routes.

For more information, email: terrie.lloyd at japantravel.com
[...Article continues]

Practically speaking this means that after these first-timers have put
Tokyo and Kyoto on their bucket list, visitors will only have a spare
couple of days to spend somewhere else - usually a destination in between
or tacked on to one end. This is why Nikko, Kamakura, Osaka, and
Hida-Takayama have become popular. They are either convenient add-ons or
practical entry/exit points on an open-jaw trip. It is difficult for other
destinations to breach this "Golden Route" and that's why I always advise
secondary prefectures to forget about first-timers. That said, locations
such as Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Hyogo, etc., should at least try to bleed off
some of the traffic sitting at their doorstep. Why they don't start
subsidizing day trip bus tours (or low-cost round-trip train tickets as
Odakyu does with Hakone) is a mystery to me.

b) Natural beauty is a top motivator for travelers the world over.
Unfortunately, because of the intensive bombings in WWII followed by
Japan's obsession with concrete, convenience, and destroy-and-rebuild urban
renewal, there is very little of the country that would qualify as visually
attractive or authentic any more. So it's no wonder that those parts that
are still intact are now top tourist draws. The Nakasendo post towns,
Hida-Takayama, Shirakawa/Gero, Kamikochi, Miyama (north of Kyoto City), Mt.
Fuji, Kakunodate, Shiretoko, Yakushima, and Miyakojima all qualify as
off-the-beaten track locations that are powerful enough to pull tourists
away from the convenience of the Golden Route and which are all
experiencing strong growth.

The problem for aspiring destinations, clearly, is that they are hobbled by
ugly scenery and widespread destruction of their historical places. There
is no easy solution for this, as the cost of recreating a meaningful number
of traditional buildings is far beyond the budget and willpower of most
regional cities to bear. Instead, a national structural change has to
happen. For example, the government could start channeling serious funding
into at least one iconic location per prefecture around the country.
Tourists expect and Japan needs to deliver a lot more picturesque narrow
streets, traditional villages, thatched roofs, flowing waterways, and
natural coastline and rivers. If this sounds difficult, remember that I am
not suggesting a wholesale makeover for the entire country, just one iconic
location per prefecture that can be used to draw visitors in. My suggestion
would be a minimum government budget of JPY10bn per location, one per
prefecture - this would be about 10 years worth of the new tourist tax.

Or, better still, to do what Italy did in the 1990's and make agri-tourism
spending by farmers as tax deductible as farming itself. In Italy over the
20 years following their legislative changes, farmers all over the country
pulled down the cheap post-WWII fibro and concrete structures and replaced
them with real wood and stone -- all financed at low rates. Mass national
awareness of a return to "slow tourism" could be extremely powerful and
even capture the imagination of young people who until now have been
fleeing the countryside.

c) My third distillation is "Consumerism", which is one of the biggest
selling points of Japan and is led by its food culture. Just about every
city around the world now has one or more Japanese restaurants, and these
are now as ubiquitous as Chinese and Indian cuisine. Ironically many of
these eateries are not run by Japanese people at all, but so long as guests
are drawn by the menus it is still a "win" for Japan and an incremental
recruitment of yet another traveler to see and taste the real thing in the
future. After food, we can add anime/manga, samurai tales, automobiles, any
made-in-Japan electronic gadget, clothing, and machinery.

Here the challenge for smaller destinations is that Japan's major gateway
cities (for air travel) are also its main shopping meccas - especially for
first-time tourists who are experiencing  sensory overload. Perhaps for
repeat tourists, the nuances of local foods provide an attraction to go to
secondary locations, such as a trek to Suruga Bay for a particular type of
shrimp, but this level of subtlety is niche and is generally lost on
foreigners. One shrimp tastes pretty much the same as another (sashimi
afficionados excepted) and I've lost track of how many times I've had to
explain to local tourism planners that while their sea food may be the
"best in Japan", foreign tourists don't get it. Instead, the appeal needs
to be to something very identifiable and rich in sensory value. A festival
with strong visual appeal such as the Nebuta festival in Aomori is worth a
hundred new season squid markets in Miyagi.

So this all boils down to the need to provide tourists with what they want,
not what local communities think they can do. Disney, Universal, and even
Robot Restaurant understand this dynamic very well, and they focus on
immersive, illusionary escape and stimulation even though they have to
spend significant sums on the "software" (story line, characters, etc.) and
on the physical details (castles, dungeons, etc.). Likewise, Walk Japan and
Oku Japan use the Nakasendo by supplementing it with excellent copywriting,
imagery, curation, and tour guiding in a similar fashion. Unfortunately,
one huge blockage to offering what tourists actually want is "Omotenashi" -
a cringeworthy concept that supposedly means "entertaining guests
wholeheartedly". While lots of bowing and turned up toilet roll ends may
appeal to Japanese travelers who love minutae, most foreign visitors would
simply be happy having more places that take credit cards, being able to
eat lunch after 2 pm, and getting better bread selections. Omotenashi as it
is being delivered currently is rigid, formulaic, and divorced from what
foreign guests actually want.

Lastly, many thanks to the readers who pointed out that March 11 this year
was the 8th, not 7th anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake. One of the
problems with putting out the newsletter late at night is embarrassing slip
ups... :-)

...The information janitors/

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

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