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Think Global, Travel Local

Post-coronavirus tourism marketing in Japan should focus on local, sustainable and eco-friendly regional travel.

On April 15, the Japan National Tourism Association (JNTO) reported a 93% decrease in the number of foreign visitors to Japan in March. That lowered the amount of inbound visitors to just 194,000 compared to the 2,754,000 who visited Japan during the same time in 2019.

We’re advising clients not to expect demand for inbound tourism to rebound suddenly one day this summer. Rather, we see a gradual return to inbound tourism numbers increasing slowly over a year or a year-and-a-half.

The change in types of tourists will also likely change significantly. Some of the travel trends we see foreigners wanting to experience will align closely with United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) expectations — but in keeping with an increase in the trends and a desire to explore the world safely due the current “new normal” caused by the coronavirus pandemic — and that revolves around sustainable tourism.

The idea of sustainable tourism has big potential for businesses in Japan coming out of the coronavirus situation — it’s less of an investment for already strapped companies. Promoting the closer local aspects of an area costs less and brings more benefit  

The UNWTO has identified three universal travel keywords relating to sustainable tourism:

  1. Environment
  2. Society
  3. Economy

Most travel agencies, tourist destinations and media aren’t actively promoting this type of travel in Japan. Companies looking to gain an edge as the market reopens should promote this type of travel in their regions. This is about attracting both foreign and Japanese travelers.

Those companies that do look at marketing or adding this type of travel promotion stand to gain a valuable head start on the competition.

It’s worth remembering that 66% of Japan’s topography is forested land. This is in the top three among the 37 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries. Many countries lower on that list are already successfully promoting this in their sustainable tourism campaigns.

We know that readers of GPlusMedia websites (GaijinPot, Japan Today, Savvy Tokyo) are interested in rural, off-the-beaten path travel experiences in Japan. Last year, the winner of our 2019 GaijinPot Travel Award was the Kumano region.

We see benefits for owners of outdoor facilities in rural areas, local and regional tourism councils as well as travel hub destinations that can provide access to these areas.

Further, all areas can benefit from the “micro tourism” trend in this regard, too. Micro tourism is about tourists exploring or sightseeing in a small radius close to home.

Starting now would also give locations the added effect of being ready and mindful of the free, independent traveler (FIT) demographic we see interested in exploring Japan when the time comes. These people make travel decisions based on the information and research they glean on the internet, social media and word of mouth rather than flashy ad campaigns.