TT-848 (Tourism Edition) -- Adventure Tourism is One Way to Unlock Regional Economies

Japan Travel
* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, April 24, 2016, Issue No. 848

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+++ Adventure Tourism is One Way to Unlock Regional Economies

One of the biggest reasons I got into the inbound travel business after
the 3/11 earthquake was the desire to do something socially meaningful
-- especially after having experienced how the "hand of god" can so
easily disrupt our lives and plans. It wasn't hard to find something
meaningful to target. Post-earthquake I visited Kitakyushu, my wife's
home town, and was struck by how the local population was getting
noticeably older and the roads notably less congested each year that
passes by. Watching an old farmer lady bent over with arthritis making
her way down a country lane hauling a basket of veges, I realized that
inbound tourism might have the capacity to not only bring money back to
these backwater parts of Japan, but more importantly, jobs, and thus
bring about the return of the region's young people as well.

So here I am in 2016 in the midst of choosing travel agent systems,
developing tours, building contributor and user communities around the
world, and generally doing the million and one things that involve
getting a start-up off the ground. Those tasks not withstanding, what
really gets me excited is how to send more foreign tourists to Akita,
Miyazaki, Kochi, or a hundred other places that foreign tourists have
never heard of (and that Japanese seldom travel to, either). Luckily,
this is the same question that a lot of commercial travel operators are
asking themselves as well - thus providing me an opportunity to
collaborate with them to develop new business.

The nub of the commercial problem for rural operators (e.g., hotels,
attractions operators, activities companies, etc.) in out of the way
places is how to get more tourists and how to keep them coming.
Generally speaking, tourists bound for rural areas fall into two camps:
i) tour groups resulting from an operator who has picked that region for
the tour, and ii) Free Independent Travelers (FIT) travelers, who
"explore" a region, find what they want, and keep coming back for more.

Some familiar examples are: mainland Chinese buying apartments in Yufuin
(Kyushu onsen spot), Taiwanese making gourmet pitstops in Fukuoka now
that V-Air offers return airfares for just JPY10,000, and Australians
flocking to Hokkaido ski fields and perhaps buying a chalet in the
process. While all three examples (bathing, eating, doing) are
attractive, it's the "doing", specifically, adventure tourism, that I
want to discuss today.

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The United Nation's World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has plenty to say
on the subject of adventure tourism. In a 2014 report now available on
Skift, they state, "Tourism is one of the most rapidly growing sectors
in the world, and adventure tourism is one of its fastest growing
categories. Increasingly, countries in all stages of economic
development are prioritizing adventure tourism for market growth,
because they recognize its ecological, cultural, and economic value."

If you ask me, this sounds like a perfect recipe for Japan's ailing
regions -- providing inbound tourists with memorable adventures which
influence them to tell their friends and thus create a viral and
virtuous cycle of promotion.

You can read the UNWTO report here:

The typical profile of an adventure tourist, according to the UNWTO, is
someone who is: i) passionate and risk-taking, ii) has a specific
purpose for traveling, iii) is willing to pay a premium for exciting and
authentic experiences, iv) values the natural environment, and, most
importantly, v) tends to want to REPEAT the same quality of experience
each time they travel. They also travel more frequently in pursuit of
their favorite activity, they stay longer (on average, at least a day
longer), and tend to have invested in their gear and so have a strong
sense of commitment.

I'll note that while the UNWTO report mostly focuses on FIT travelers,
it also makes the point that since many overseas group and package tour
travelers travel after booking with foreign agencies and airlines,
something that is especially true in Japan's case, that if local
governments and local travel operators want more foreign tourists on a
sustained basis they need to plug directly into the foreign travel
companies at the planning level. This means the locals need to invest
time and money into developing long-term international relationships
themselves at a micro level, versus leaving it all to JTA or JNTO. Right
now I don't see this happening, which is why I think adventure tourism
is an exciting field for a new business to enter.

JTA and JNTO don't "get" adventure tourism in Japan, you only need to
see their packages and marketing to realize that. Almost everything they
are churning out spells "polite control" - heavily scheduled tours,
travel by train that limits travelers to places with stations, and
activities restricted to looking or tasting and not much else. No risk,
no haste, no activity, and no adventure. In fact, Japanese tours as they
are sold at the moment are essentially "old people's tourism", a term I
used to use in the early days of but don't any more
because it upsets too many people... ;-)

The UNWTO categorizes adventure tourism into the following categories:
"Soft", "Hard", and "Other", with the categorization being based on
whether the primary activity requires significant skill and exertion to
perform. By this definition I can say that the immediate opportunity for
Japan adventure travel operators is in the Soft category -- which
luckily includes a huge range of activities and most of which Japan is
either already good at or could be good at if suitable operators were to
appear. Mostly the infrastructure is already there. While the government
may not be up to speed, individual players can certainly see the
opportunities and this is why JTB recently put JPY600MM of funding into
Asoview, Japan's largest activities portal.

=> Soft
* Archeological expeditions, Backpacking, Birdwatching, Camping,
Canoeing, Eco-tourism, Educational programs, Environmentally sustainable
activities, Hiking, Horseback riding, Hunting, Kayaking/sea/whitewater,
Orienteering, Rafting, Research expeditions, Safaris, Sailing, Scuba
Diving, Snorkeling, Skiing/snowboarding

=> Hard
* Caving, Climbing (mountain/rock/ice), Trekking

=> Other
* Attending local festival/fairs, Cruises, Cultural activities, Getting
to know the locals, Learning a new language, Walking tours, Visiting
friends/family, Visiting historical sites, Volunteer Tourism

The same report also had a special mention for cycling, which it points
out gets travelers off the beaten path and in closer contact with
locals. More importantly it refers to the economic benefits of cycling,
where traveler spending goes directly to remote locations, and how the
promise of even more such visitors is causing local governments to
invest heavily in infrastructure to draw even more cyclists.

I can see the cycling phenomenon already at work in the Noto Peninsula,
northwest of Kyoto, where the Ishikawa Prefectural government has
invested in many kilometers of picturesque cycleways next to the ocean
right around the peninsula. The trip takes 5-7 days, and these cycling
groups need places to stay and things to do, in areas that previously
saw few foreign tourists. Another great example is Ehime Prefecture's
wonderful Shimanami Kaido cycleway, which island and bridge hops its way
over to Shikoku from Honshu.

So what is needed to create a niche business in the adventure tourism

Firstly you need a compelling adventure, sexed up with an inspirational
theme, beautiful photos, and some early customer endorsements. Whatever
it is, your adventure needs to be appealing enough that people will
travel out of their way and spend a number of days in order to
experience it. This means that instead of just focusing on canoes and
hotels, throw in some riverside camping and whitewater, maybe a ghost
story or two, and focus on the ecology and the excitement of the
experience. And in case you're wondering about profitability, I know
several operators already working on a 50% profit margin before
marketing costs.

Secondly you need high-grade gear to service the adventure, be it
horses, acqualungs, canoes, chase cars, tour leaders, etc. This sounds
more daunting than it is. There are plenty of companies selling these
products/contractors, who will do a deal in return for a share of the
action (i.e., a shared-risk partnership), or if you have more of a risk
appetite yourself, look for someone who will let you lease over 3-4
years. Now that "in-boundo" is the new buzz word in Japanese media, once
they hear the business plan you may have just created a way for them to
participate in the boom that until now they didn't have. The collective
desire to benefit from the inbound tourism boom is strong.

Thirdly you need available infrastrucure, so that hotel, bus, and other
providers don't strangle your capacity or price you out of existence.
Luckily the nature of adventure tourism is such that you can move to
even more remote locations if the major centers are busy or difficult.
Nonetheless, this is an area where you can go to local government and
ask them for help to get more tourists in. Ask them to locate minshuku
and guest houses that will collaborate, or have them talk to the local
bus company about putting on some more routes/departures to handle your
needs. This is normally difficult to do, but luckily you have that
"in-boundo" buzz word reaching the subconscious of even the most
internet-disconnected oji-san senior managers these days. So you could
become a local solution versus a local irritation.

Lastly, you need proper packaging and marketing, which thankfully is
getting a lot easier these days now that Global Distribution Systems
(GDS) operators such as are starting to open up in Japan.


Note: As Golden Week is coming up, I'll be out cycling and catching up
on chores around the house, so I will be off for 2 weeks from next week.
Back with my next Take on May 15th, 2016.

...The information janitors/


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