South Korea key rival wooing ASEAN tourists

Kyodo

In an effort to compete better with South Korea in drawing tourists from Southeast Asia, Japan has been stepping up exports of pop culture content to the region and easing visa requirements for people there.

A weakening of the yen is also boosting Japan’s competitiveness in luring tourists from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, among other parts of the world.

Although Japan and South Korea have been promoting similar attractions such as local cuisine, cherry blossoms, skiing and shopping at city malls, Seoul has been leading Tokyo in drawing booming numbers of middle-class visitors from ASEAN for the last several years.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, the number of Thais visiting South Korea jumped 2.4 times in 2012 to 387,000 from the 2008 level. The figure for Japan came to 260,000, up only 35 percent.

Thailand is the biggest tourist source for both countries among the 10 ASEAN members.

Mamoru Kobori, executive director for the Marketing and Promotion Department at JNTO, said the positive influences of Korean pop songs and TV dramas in Southeast Asia are behind South Korea’s success in attracting tourists, especially youth, from the region.

“The inflow of such pop content has helped South Korea’s tourism promotions by raising people’s interest in the country,” Kobori said. “In this regard, giving greater access by Asian youths to J-pop songs, animation and other Japanese pop culture content represents an extremely important strategy to increase future fans of — and visitors to — Japan.”

Together with the promotion of K-pop culture, he attributed Seoul’s success to price competitiveness, increased low-cost carrier flights and “all-Korea” initiatives that transformed the entire tourism industry into a highly foreign tourist-oriented one.

To make it easier for Southeast Asian people to visit Japan, the government in July relaxed visa requirements for citizens of five ASEAN member states — Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Similarly, Japan has been accelerating exports of its pop culture content under the government-led “Cool Japan” initiative.

Spurred by increased LCC flights and JNTO campaigns to commemorate the 40th anniversary this year of Japan-ASEAN relations, the number of visitors from Southeast Asia has surged in recent months on a year-on-year basis.

A total of 869,000 people from six major countries in ASEAN — Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam — visited Japan in the first 10 months of this year, up from 607,000 in the same period last year and making it likely Japan will achieve its target of doubling the number of visitors from ASEAN to 1 million in 2013 from the 2011 level.

The government aims to increase the number to 2 million in 2016.