Japan works on a makeover to attract more Europeans

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

In an effort to woo younger European travelers, Japanese tourism officials launched a campaign highlighting the country’s contribution to contemporary arts and culture.

Staff at the Japan National Tourist Organization are also hoping to attract spa-lovers by promoting Japan’s many “onsen” (hot springs) and Buddhist retreats.

The campaign “Cool Japan — Fusion with Tradition” officially kicked off at this week’s World Travel Market in London, an annual trade fair that attracts more than 5,000 exhibitors. This year, 202 countries will be there.

The latest promotion follows the successful “Visit Japan Campaign” in Europe in 2003, which helped boost number of tourists traveling to Japan. Britain currently sends the most visitors to Japan from Europe, followed by Germany and France.

As part of the “Cool Japan” campaign, staff are sending out brochures on “manga” (comic books) and animation-related attractions, along with information on Japan’s cutting-edge architectural sights.

This year’s exhibit also highlights the country’s fashion designers and high-tech gadgetry. The information has been compiled into a booklet in association with the Time Out magazine, which has a young readership.

With Japan, however, it’s not all about what’s new and trendy.

This year, representatives from a ryokan are on hand to advise travel agents and tour operators on how to promote traditional forms of leisure. Many Europeans do not think of Japan as place to relax and staff at JNTO are keen to change that.

Kylie Clark, public relations manager at JNTO in London, said the campaign was launched “to make people aware that Japan is much more than geisha, sumo, gardens, temples and Mount Fuji.”

“Through the campaign we wish to highlight that Tokyo, along with New York, Paris and London, is now one of the world’s leading cities when it comes to trends in foods, fashion and popular culture.”

Clark said the aim of the campaign was to “diversify” the types of travelers going to Japan. Currently, the main market is couples over 50 with an interest in Japanese traditional culture such as gardens and temples. JNTO hopes to attract more young couples, singles and families with this year’s promotion. It has already been running an “underground” ad campaign for several weeks.

And in an effort to attract the younger market, JNTO is also promoting the country’s ski resorts. After a series of good reviews by British journalists who tested Japan’s slopes, several tour operators are offering holidays to Japan next year.

JNTO is also keen to encourage more visits by British students and will soon be releasing a booklet they hope will make it easier to set up exchanges between educational institutions in the two countries.