With trips to Japan being so popular among people from Hong Kong, Tokyo sees the territory as a testing ground for trying out various initiatives and analyzing behavioral patterns as it seeks to attract more foreign tourists.
A record 2.2 million Hong Kong residents visited Japan in 2017, up 21.3 percent from the previous year, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. This means that more than 1 in 3 people from the Chinese territory have visited Japan, and almost 21 percent of them have done so more than 10 times.
“There is nowhere else that resonates as much as Hong Kong. The locals really like Japan and have deep knowledge that even we Japanese don’t have,” said Yasumasa Shimizu, JNTO’s senior director of the Hong Kong office, citing as an example the popularity among Hong Kong people of the relatively obscure Iya spa resort in Tokushima Prefecture.
Japan is the top tourist destination for the people of Hong Kong, surpassing Taiwan and Thailand in second and third, respectively, thanks to the spread of Japanese food and culture, an economic recovery and the yen’s depreciation, which makes Japan a bargain destination, according to the JNTO.
“We try to be creative and help people understand Japanese culture” so they will want to travel to Japan and taste the authentic food, said Susanna Wong, CEO of Yata Ltd., which operates 11 department stores and supermarkets in Hong Kong specializing in Japanese foods and lifestyles.
Wong said her company also seeks to “show the latest gourmet trends across Japan and re-create the Japanese lifestyle.”
“Fruits and green tea are always popular,” she said. “Hong Kong people also like new things, like in snacks.”
By country and region, Hong Kong was the largest importer per capita of Japanese agriculture, forestry and fisheries products — at a value of ¥187.7 billion ($1.78 billion) — in 2017 for the 13th straight year. There are more than 1,500 Japanese restaurants in the city, according to the Japanese government.
In Yata’s Tseung Kwan O store, the popular Kumamon black bear that serves as the mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture welcomes customers, while wagyu beef, sake, fruits and snacks imported directly from Japan line the shelves.
Sushi and sake bars have been set up with eat-in spaces, as has a booth devoted to products from Tokushima, open for a limited period.
“Among our products, jams and drinks using yuzu citrus fruit are especially popular,” said Shiro Oka, chief representative for the Shanghai office of the Tokushima Industrial Promotion Organization, adding that the organization held a low-carbohydrate tasting event of konnyaku (devil’s tongue) noodles for health-conscious consumers. “Competition is tough, but I hope more people will visit Tokushima.”
There are 15 Japanese cities that have regular flights to and from Hong Kong.
JNTO officials said they try to attract tourists to Japan from Hong Kong in different seasons, pitching food items that can only be found at certain times of the year, such as crab in the winter, or experiences like fireworks festivals in the summer or fruit picking in spring.
The organization has also set its sights on offering a new type of tourism: Japan as a destination for holding weddings, after data showed that some 10 percent of Hong Kong couples choose to wed outside the territory, and spending an average of $13,000 to do so.
Around 97 percent take part in “photo weddings,” in which no actual wedding ceremony is held but only photos are taken, with 70 percent being held overseas.
In 2016, more than 1,000 couples came to Japan to have weddings, while 6,111 couples picked Japan for photo weddings.
“Hong Kong provides us with insights on what works in tourism,” said JNTO’s Shimizu. “We want to use the experience and implement this in attracting tourists from other countries.”
Japan has seen a surge in foreign visitors in recent years, with the number hitting a record of over 28 million in 2017. The government is seeking to increase the figure to 40 million in 2020 when the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be held.