As part of the Visit Japan Campaign, the central government identified 12 “target” countries and regions on which to concentrate marketing activities. Have their efforts paid off? We asked industry insiders from each of the selected countries how Japan was perceived as a tourist destination.
Shin Yun Kyung, Tokyo office general manager, Tourbaksa
The business is bad. South Koreans don’t want to travel. We have been hurt by the yen’s appreciation against the won and recent plunges in stock prices. More people are traveling as FIT (free independent travelers), rather than group tourists. The ratios of group-versus-individual travelers changed dramatically last year or so, and 70 percent of our customers now travel on their own. I really can’t see an end to the (recession). The business was OK until July, and then suddenly dropped off around September. Because of ups and downs in the currency market, people are taking a wait-and-see approach.
The United Kingdom
Paul Davies, director, Magical China Ltd., a travel agency specializing in Japan and China tours in Sale, England
Our clientele is elderly, 50-ish, and usually couples. Our customers are interested in Japanese culture, temples and gardens in particular. They want to have the feeling that they understand Japan. Kyushu is a very good region and I would like to promote it. They have the lovely scenery and the Beppu hot springs are good. Mount Aso is a very interesting place. The big problem at the moment with Japan is that there are no major land operators other than Sunrise Tours (for individual travelers). More companies should provide tours so there is more competition. I never had a problem with Sunrise and its tour guides are very good, but it’s just that everyone has the same itinerary.
Dennis Yap, manager, products development, Dynasty Travel
We are interested in Japan culture, scenic places, local experiences, and, of course, the gourmet. The first-timers like to go to cities like Osaka and Tokyo, and to Mount Fuji. For repeat visitors, (it is) Toyama and the Japan Alps. In terms of new regions, we have been pushing Aomori for two years but it is not increasing very much. FIT is recently picking up fast. I just came back from Kobe, where they have a new tour called Splash Kobe (which tours around major tourist attractions via an amphibious vehicle). This is a new thing even to locals, but commentaries are offered in Japanese only. If they don’t operate in English, (FIT customers) would be confined to English-speaking areas.
Su Wei-Huey, district sales office, Taipei, Japan Airlines International Co.
Many Taiwanese have visited Japan more than once. They are repeaters. The young generation is interested in skiing. Some ski resorts have onsen nearby, and Taiwanese are interested in onsen because they get very tired after skiing. Now many people would like to visit the Tohoku region because of the maple-leaf season. They want to visit Tokyo and Osaka the first time, (go) to Hokkaido the second time and (elsewhere) the third time. But so many agents tell me it’s very difficult to have hotels confirmed during this season.
Shirley Siu, JAL Satellite Travel Co., Ltd.
Tokyo and Hokkaido are popular at the moment. Hongkongers are also interested in nature, so they might choose to go up to Tohoku by train — to Akita or Aomori, for example. Hokkaido is good for nature, too. They have started to come in spring to see the cherry blossoms, too. There has been a lot of promotion in Hong Kong about Japanese onsen, food and shopping recently, so there is a lot of interest in general.
Henry Chow, president, Hyatt Vacation
Canadians are interested in the food and culture in Japan, and in Tokyo in general. The numbers of travelers is growing, but it is still small. When Canadians go overseas, they want to go south — to beaches, sunshine. The tourists that are most impressed by Japan are the students who we send in groups. They all say they will definitely come back on individual trips. They like the culture, the food.
Attaphong Satjafuangkitjakarn, managing director, The Talent Co.
Thai people love shopping, especially food they can’t buy in Thailand. On a recent apple- picking tour, one customer bought 20-30 kg of apples as souvenirs. We have gone to Yamanashi for peach-picking tours, and to Aomori for apple-picking tours. One thing I would like to see more is Thai-language information. Universal Studios Japan has started offering services in Thai. Of course many Thai speak English, but . . . wouldn’t it be the same for Japanese people traveling overseas?
The United States
Denise Foley, consultant for Over the Hill Gang International, a group for skiers, bikers and hikers over age 50
The advantages of Japan for skiers is (you get) different cultural experiences. And the snow in Niseko, Hokkaido, is supposed to be excellent. I’ve talked to Americans who live there and they say so, though there was no snow when I had the opportunity to go there.
Rondel Herriott, co-managing director, Saizen Tours
We mostly organize school trips to Japan. In the past, Japanese-language teachers would call us — now we get sports instructors wanting to organize ski trips for students! Eight years ago, when we sent kids to rural areas in Japan, they’d get swamped by curious locals. Foreigners are more common now, so we don’t attract so much attention. With the Australian dollar at ¥55, it will be difficult for Australians to come; if it goes back to ¥80, things will be OK.
Dai Fen, Japan department manager, Sichuan Overseas Tourist Group
Our travelers are most interested in Disneyland, culture and food. In the past, Chinese could only go to Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand — because of visa restrictions. Japanese visas became easier to get a few years ago, and that led to an increase in numbers. U.S. visas are still difficult to get. First-time travelers all want to go to Tokyo. Repeaters might go to regional areas for golf or cultural experiences.
Jil Ciena, counter sales, Jalpak International
There has been a big increase in Germans visiting Japan recently — although it doesn’t compete with destinations in Thailand and Indonesia. Most Germans choose group tours (covering Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara). We do about three groups of 30 each month. If they like it they go again, by themselves, seeking out more cultural experiences — staying at ryokan (Japanese inns), eating monk’s food at temples and so on.
Shihoko Hashiba, Voyages a la carte
France is the second-largest market for manga. French people like Japanese popular culture. With young French people in particular — if they come once they want to come again. Some young people come to Japan and stay for 10 days just to see J-Pop concerts. The older generation are interested in museums, temples, or one-week meditation retreats on Mount Koya and other natural attractions. Others come for martial arts or flower arrangement.