TT-931 (Tourism Edition) -- Wasted Opportunity at Sydney World Travel Expo

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, Feb 11, 2018, Issue No. 931

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+++ Wasted Opportunity at Sydney World Travel Expo

Life is full of interesting surprises, and currently I'm writing this
edition of my Tourist Take from Sydney, Australia. Three weeks ago I
was approached by Liberta Inc's CEO, Keijiro Sawano, to assist with a
regional revitalization initiative called Heartland. I agreed and in
so doing put together a series of seminars that will cover Australia,
New Zealand, the UK, and Germany. We have just delivered the first set
here in Sydney, and next week travel to Auckland. It's been a great
learning experience so far - especially eye-opening has been the
difference in attitude by Australians towards buying travel. [Heartland URL]

One of the first outputs of Sawano's Heartland project has been a
6-day (5 nights) trekking experience in the vicinity of Mt. Aso, to
help the nearby Minamiaso community affected in the April 2016
magnitude 7 earthquake in Kumamoto, to recover through inbound
tourism. Sawano is creating local "slow travel" tours as a strategy to
keep visiting tourists in the area longer, and of course consuming
local products and services.

Slow travel is a tried and true strategy used by local revitalization
projects around the world, however, in Japan the strategy hasn't been
that successful. Mostly this is because they are unable to create
compelling "content" that encourages visitors to re-tell their
experience to their friends. The best recent example of a failed slow
travel strategy was the many millions (of dollars) spent by the
Japanese government to encourage foreign visitors to go to Tohoku
after the devastating 3/11 earthquake there. They tried food,
festivals, and at one point even a free 3-year visitors visa to any
Chinese visitors game enough to go there for one night. But even with
this basic requirement there were very few takers, mostly on account
of fears of the radiation problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear
power plant.

Yeah, OK, maybe that example is less of a content problem and more one
of primal fear...!

Anyway, Sawano should certainly have more luck with his walking tours
in Aso, because:

1) Countryside and mountain route trekking in Japan has become
extraordinarily popular with Australian and UK tourists in the last 2
years. Partly this is because of the determined efforts of a few
pioneers in the genre, but mostly (as I was told by a number of
Australian expo travel agents) it's because of a 2016 TV mini-series
by UK actress Joanna Lumley, who traveled throughout Japan and
documented her interactions with local people. Either way, romantic
routes such as the Nakasendo and Kumano Trail are getting crowded with
visitors looking for a glimpse of Japan's fascinating past, coupled
with the opportunity to meet local "real" Japanese.

[Continued below...]

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2) Now that there are enough foreign visitors who have walked the
Nakasendo (anecdotally we were told about 10,000 people a year now)
the word-of-mouth advertising is starting to spread, and certainly we
see this in the inquiries coming in to Japan Travel's agency team.
This new-found popularity is causing enthusiasts to starting looking
for new routes and discoveries - like Sawano's offerings.

3) There is virtually no nuclear threat in the Aso area as the nearest
operating nuclear power station is about 180km to the Southwest, in
Sendai, Kyushu. This is about 30km further than the Fukushima Daiichi
plant is north of Tokyo. And of course foreign tourists are still
thronging the capital.

4) The Aso area makes for a great visit experience. Thanks to a lack
of concentrated population, the region was largely spared during the
War and as a consequence there is a remarkable number of ancient
and/or traditional buildings preserved there - adding up to a
satisfying dose of history and immersion for visiting tourists.

BTW, if you want to look up the percentage of cities that were damaged
by bombing during WW2, this link is pretty interesting... [Bombing of Tokyo and Other Cities]

But back to the Sydney visit...

The trip was timed to coincide with the World Travel Expo in Sydney,
held out at the Sydney Olympic Park grounds and hosted by Australian
travel behemoth Flight Centre Australia [Australian spelling]. I do
have to say that the Australians like taking their overseas
holidays... the main hall at the expo was teeming with people who'd
braved the long journey (several hours by train due to local track
work) and heat.

The Flight Center folks certainly know their market, and it was
noticeable how they had dozens of Flight Center travel consultants
lining the perimeter of the exhibition hall, answering questions and
recommending tours to customers lining up (at times) 3-4 people deep.
I couldn't help wondering why, with the Internet, this type of
human-driven sales service was really necessary, but obviously from
the long lines the hype and excitement works. Crowd psychology and all
that... certainly the mood was very upbeat, energetic, and impulsive.
One could almost say it was a feeding frenzy.

Herein lies a very basic difference between how Australian and
Japanese average consumers buy travel. Australians, and of course I am
generalizing from this single event here, appear to buy travel the
same way they go to the supermarket. They study the destination first
of course, but when they are ready to buy they want a quick fix at a
compelling price. If you don't have what they want, they'll go buy it
from someone else who does. This, versus Japanese consumers, who want
to study things to death for 3-6 months first before making a

It's easy to see why Japanese firms are struggling to sell travel to
non-Japanese consumers. They have missed the fact that you need to
have a wide range of products that appeal to each specific niche, and
that are ready to go when the customers are ready to buy. Apart from
JTB and Hoshino Resorts (a very savvy company) we didn't see any
Japanese private tour operators there. Instead, the Japanese presence
was mostly local government booths.

One small interaction I witnessed highlighted the awareness gap for
me. On the first day of the expo I was waiting for a colleague in
front of the Kansai booth (funded by a group of Kansai prefectural
governments) when an elderly trio of potential travelers of
Chinese-descent came up to ask for information and pricing on food
tours in the Kansai. They were specific that they wanted food tours -
the Number One reason tourists visit Japan - and yet the Japanese
gentleman behind the counter couldn't give them a single tour.
Instead, he had to show them brochures of various towns and onsens,
which included pictures of restaurants and meals on them. The
frustration on the behalf of the trio was palpable, and while they
took the brochures they quickly moved down to the next booth to ask
the same question! This was an opportunity lost, and must have been
repeated hundreds of times over the course of the expo.

The reason why they couldn't get the product information they wanted
is that Japanese local governments don't want to be seen as favoring
any particular local companies, so they don't carry specific tours.
Instead everything is generalized and keyed to stimulating interest in
the region as a whole. What these local governments don't understand
is that Australian consumers already have a flood of information about
Japan and its regions, they are highly motivated to come (numbers are
up 20% a year for the last 3 years in a row) and they are past the
inspiration stage of the consumer journey. Instead, they are ready to
buy actual product. Just unfortunately, no one seems to be ready to
sell them any - other than JTB and Hoshino of course.

...The information janitors/


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