Holiday tours based around shopping are on the decline as more travelers look for packages that offer more free time.
JTB Corp. recently introduced a “no shopping” tour to South Korea and were surprised to find they were very popular.
“Shopping was a selling point about a decade ago but is not popular now as customers feel they are being forced into it,” one travel agency official said. “It shows that Japanese are traveling abroad more.”
Tourists have been increasingly complaining that they want more free time and to be able to shop on their own while on tours, industry officials said.
Travel agencies offer cheap package tours abroad by allowing local guides to handle part of the program. The guides typically take travelers to local gift shops for which they receive commissions.
The downward trend in guided tours reflects the current state of the economy, in which expensive, high-quality products are again becoming a hit, after years of consumers looking for the lowest prices, according to analysts.
Also affecting the change is a revised travel-business law that came into force this month. The law bans tour groups from forcing their clients to visit gift shops.
The law revision was prompted by a heated price war around 1997 and complaints about local guides who forced tour participants into stores where they were badgered into buying things.
Overseas shopping tours, especially to Asia, became common in the 1980s.
There are still cases of local guides, particularly in Hong Kong and Bangkok, taking tourists to a series of gift shops as part of what they call “half-day sightseeing trips.”
Souvenir shops often pay commissions to the guides, who can receive as much as 120,000 yen for taking 40 Japanese into three stores. The local payouts dwarf the money the Japanese travel agencies pay in guide fees.
Tour guides can get even more money looking after company-organized group tours, as company employees usually spend more on gifts than regular tour participants.
Local travel agencies are willing to look after company trips at no charge to the Japanese agents, tourism industry sources said.
JTB said it plans to expand its no shopping program to include other destinations.
JTB and Nippon Travel Agency Co. have tour packages that stipulate only two shopping stops. Kinki Nippon Tourist Co. said its packages only have stops at duty-free stores.
The decrease in the number of gift-shop visits is also connected to a decline in the discounts Japanese tourists can get when overseas. But Japanese travel agents are trying to keep their prices unchanged.
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