Japan tourism effort zeroes in on British families

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

Japan is promoting itself at this year’s World Travel Market in London as the ideal destination for a family holiday.

After last year’s promotion, which focused on young adults, Japan is now using the growing popularity of Japanese pop culture in Britain and Europe to attract children and their parents.

“Japan is becoming a key destination for family holidays, with many children now begging to be taken to the home of PlayStation, Nintendo and the Japanese animation characters now so prolific on British TV: Pokemon, Dragonball Z, the Transformers and the Oscar-winning film ‘Spirited Away,’ ” said Tetsuya Okuda, executive director of the Japan National Tourist Organization office in London.

This year’s stand at the London travel show — one of the biggest annual tourist trade fairs — is stocked with handy information from a variety of bodies for tour operators wanting to start family and school trips to Japan.

JNTO is also continuing to promote Japan as a ski venue and is once again keen to stress Japan’s affordability to British consumers when compared with trips in Europe.

For example, the value of the British currency has risen by 35 percent over the last 10 years in Japan, according to an index devised by Halifax Travel Insurance. In Europe, however, the value of the pound has fallen by up to 16 percent in the last four years.

According to JNTO, the last 18 months have seen the price of the latest digital cameras in Japan falling from an average of £140 to just £85, and the cost of a hamburger at a McDonald’s from 39 pence to 24 pence.

To attract families, JNTO is promoting various theme parks, including Kidzania, an “edutainment” park where children can perform grownup roles in realistically simulated places of work. Other attractions include Sanrio Puroland, home to Hello Kitty and all of Sanrio’s other characters. Also highlighted is Tokyo’s Ghibli Museum, which is devoted to animation.

Another aspect of this year’s promotion is technology and transport. JNTO is reminding visitors of the various attractions offered by the major auto companies, including robot displays and hybrid car demonstrations.

In terms of transport, the tourist information recommends riding a bullet train or taking a river cruise through Tokyo in one of the futuristic water buses.

JNTO says that the Harajuku district in Tokyo is the ideal place for teenagers to check out cutting-edge Japanese fashions. It advises style-conscious youngsters to take a walk down Takeshita-dori on Sundays when young people congregate in “cosplay” (costume play).

For a touch of culture, the range of festivals across Japan are promoted as ideal events for parents and children alike. Also highlighted are the regular sumo tournaments as well as the annual Snow Festival in Hokkaido.

According to figures released by JNTO at this year’s trade show, visitors to Japan in 2006 rose 9 percent and reached 7.33 million.

Among European travelers to Japan, the fastest growth was seen in Finland, with an 18.2 percent annual increase to 15,242; Portugal with a 14.7 percent rise to 12,246; Sweden with a 9.5 percent surge to 25,299; and France with a 6.3 percent boost to 117,785.

British tour operators reported increased bookings in 2006, with the United Kingdom again accounting for the most overall European visitors to Japan, at 216,476. This year, British visitor growth is steady at a 2.6 percent rise for January to July.