Drawing a Crowd - GPlusMedia
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Drawing a Crowd

The assistant director for the Tottori Prefectural Office in Tokyo on working with GPlusMedia in its efforts to attract foreigners visiting Japan to Tottori.

Tottori Prefecture is actively pursuing a policy of attracting foreign tourists to the region and it has used a wide range of GPlusMedia services. We sent writers from our GaijinPot website to the prefecture to research stories, writing articles and producing videos of their tourist experiences.

We also produced collaborative events with media outlets to give foreigners opportunities to encounter the appeal of Tottori directly. Not only did these efforts result in an increase in tourist numbers, but they also led the prefecture to pursue further effective measures with GPlusMedia based on the numerous comments it received.

GPlusMedia services used:

  • GaijinPot
  • Display advertising, sponsored articles, advertorials, promotional videos, SNS promotions, promotional events

We sat down with Yoshitaki Yamasaki, the assistant director for the Tottori Prefectural Office in Tokyo, to find out a little more about the prefecture’s reasons for working with GPlusMedia, how they felt about the experience, the results and what the future has in store for Tottori Prefecture inbound tourism.

What does the Tottori Prefectural Office do in Tokyo?

Yoshitaka Yamasaki: The Tottori Prefectural Office in Tokyo provides the residents of Tokyo with various information on attractive sightseeing opportunities, delicious food and convenient modes of transport in Tottori. In addition to responding to story requests from TV, radio, magazines and online media outlets, we work to convey information through self-produced events and online campaigns.

Tottori Prefecture has a population of just under 600,000 people — making it the least populated prefecture in Japan. Nevertheless, it abounds with rich natural beauty and fascinating cultural, traditional and culinary attractions. However, simply confining itself to the local community would not generate economic dynamism in Tottori. As a result, the governor and the entire prefectural government are promoting a PR campaign that actively targets domestic and international tourists, especially in Tokyo and Kansai. A strong desire to stimulate the local economy fuels this campaign.

Why did Tottori Prefecture find GPlusMedia’s services necessary?

YY: Tottori Prefecture already has plenty of experience promoting tourism — mostly in East Asia — and it welcomes countless guests from East Asian countries and other nations adjacent to the Sea of Japan. Ferries regularly travel from Sakaiminato to Vladivostok (in Russia) and Donghae (in South Korea), and there are regular flights between Yonago, Tottori and Seoul as well as Yonago and Hong Kong.

Sakaiminato is also equipped to handle large cruise ships, and in peak months 15 ships may stop in the city. Sometimes, the port is full of the more than 2,000 passengers per ship and the many international tourists have come to define the city.

Against this backdrop, our request to GPlusMedia stemmed from our question of what we can do in Tokyo to draw foreign tourists in Japan to Tottori. As the government aims to surpass more than 40 million international tourists in Japan in the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, we wanted this campaign to show foreigners other regions [to visit] besides just the big cities.

However, attracting tourists from areas outside East Asia brings hurdles in terms of cost and distance. We’ve run PR campaigns directed at Western countries, but we have often been limited by distance and cost when trying to attract even one media outlet.

Thus, after meeting a representative from GPlusMedia, we began to wonder whether it would be more useful to convey — using the same methods as the GaijinPot services, the appeal of Tottori to foreigners already living in Tokyo.

First, we would like foreigners who live in Japanese urban areas come to Tottori. Then, we hope that, if they were to take pictures of what they saw there and write articles describing their experiences, it would have a ripple effect that would gradually reach the rest of the world.

What struggles did you encounter when producing this strategy?

YY: From a Japanese perspective, Tottori has a wealth of sightseeing resources. We have an endless number of sights, including the Tottori Sand Dunes, the Uradome Coast, San’in Kaigan Geopark, Mount Daisen, Kurayoshi White Wall Warehouses, Mizuki Shigeru Road, and Conan Road in the Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory. The food is abundant, with the famous Iwagaki oyster available in summer and the best crab in Japan caught in winter. The prefecture also offers many traditional crafts.

However, our problems were how to frame these elements and how to market their appeal for an international audience. Numerous local governments create pamphlets and other materials using translated commentaries written by Japanese people. However, I often feel like these materials fail to connect with foreigners, perhaps due to the differences in culture and rudimentary knowledge instilled in them.

I also think that we have done much of our PR planning from a Japanese perspective. Even if we bring in several foreign personnel, the majority of our staff consists of Japanese people, so our plans always end up being led by them. We were aware that we had to break through that barrier.

This time, we incorporated foreign staff who live in Japan from the planning stage, and they provided us with ideas about locations to visit. Moreover, all the foreign writers who visited Tottori put the feelings they experienced firsthand into English words.

Throughout the process of discussing the campaign and reading the completed articles, we discovered many aspects of Tottori that we had never noticed before.

Since many of the writers also speak Japanese, we were able to communicate smoothly during our discussions and meetings.

What impact did the campaign have? What impact do you expect it to have in the future?

YY: In Tokyo, GPlusMedia held events for its readers at Tottori Okayama Shimbashikan and Xex Nihonbashi, where its foreign staff gave presentations on the appeal of Tottori, showcased the Tottori tourism video we produced and ran lotteries for local specialties. The response we got from the international attendees of these events was unlike anything we have seen before.

They showed an interest in unexpected areas, and when asked specific questions about modes of travel, I realized how confusing the route to Tottori could be for foreigners. I also noticed so much just by being there.

For our internet campaign, we have figures that clearly show the results. The video promoting the Taimatsu Gyoretsu at Mount Daisen had more than 50,000 views and many of the lovely comments were in the vein of “it’s beautiful” or “I want to go there.”

Our internet strategy will remain in effect for a long time, so we hope to continue coming up with creative approaches to raise search hits and otherwise help more foreigners reach Tottori.

What do you expect from GPlusMedia in the future?

YY: We would like GPlusMedia to continue helping us communicate information about Tottori across the globe as it has done up to now.

We want to share with the world the idea that Tottori is great by having foreigners tell their friends and families about the beautiful and fascinating parts of our prefecture, through the pictures they take and share on social media.

Another idea is that we would like to use GPlusMedia’s services to uncover more of Tottori from an international perspective and expand our PR campaigns directed at Japanese people.

Many foreigners who have lived in Japan for a long time are connoisseurs of Japanese culture, which means they have unique insights.  We would then like to effectively promote these newly discovered charms and rebrand Tottori for Japanese tourists.

Just as the Japanese are attracted to the idea of being Parisians, it is undoubtedly natural for the French to admire how people live in Japan. If we properly utilize the perspectives of individuals from different countries, we ought to find success.

What advice or encouragement would you offer to people and organizations in similar circumstances?

YY: I believe the most crucial aspect of planning a campaign is setting the targets. There are various beliefs and approaches regarding multilingual PR campaigns, including whether it’s acceptable to fully devote a campaign to multiple languages or whether it’s better to focus on just English.

At the same time, it’s likely impossible to perfectly meet the needs of all international visitors to Japan who have different nationalities, languages, travel budgets or cultural backgrounds.

For this campaign, we asked ourselves what the Tottori Prefectural Office in Tokyo can do since we already welcome so many East Asian visitors to our prefecture. Plus, we narrowed the target of our message to foreigners from English-speaking countries.

I have a strong sense that the number of Western tourists in Tottori is gradually increasing, but the figure remains small. However, we believe that, because there are still so few Western tourists, we still have room to grow.

Some elements make it easier to accept guests from English-speaking countries, including the fact that English is the language we learned through compulsory education [in Japan]. Additionally, in Tottori City, taxis operate with simultaneous interpretation devices installed.I think it would be great if the growing number of English-speaking tourists can effectively use the general improvements we have made to make their stays more comfortable, thereby leading to a virtuous cycle in which these figures grow even further.