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Will the Travel Business Come to its Senses?2011.06.06

    Just three months since the massive earthquake and tsunami turned our world around, Japan has moved from reeling to recovery. The frequent aftershocks from the earthquake have largely subsided, but the aftershocks from the tsunami continue to batter the economy. One of the industries most directly affected is tourism and travel, an industry which depends very much on the trade winds of image and perception.


    What are some of the issues facing people in the tourism and event business in Japan?


    Fear and avoidance. Safety is a natural concern for anyone living in or traveling to Japan, after the media launched a blitz on our perception combining graphic images of devastation, frightening forecasts and meltdown scenarios, made more vivid by the flight of foreigners living in Japan, and travel warnings posted by governments around the world. Conflicting information lowered the level of trust, and as a result it is difficult for most people to know who or what to believe. If you don’t live in Japan, you have no way to judge this media madness against the evidence of your own senses and intuition. Fear leads to avoidance, and travelers choose other destinations.


    Monotonous marketing. This is a problem which clearly predates the crisis, and yet can have a hidden impact on tourism through its failure to attract repeat business or new travelers, who have access to more information and media on travel destinations than ever before. Pretty postcard pictures are unlikely to compete with real time reports from bloggers and Facebook networks. Where even one year is an era in Internet history, many websites promoting travel to Japan seem to be gathering more dust than traffic. In a word, “Been there, done that.”


    Diversity in motivation. Travel is not the only industry to have been deeply affected by diversification in needs and niches. Nobody seems to want to follow the flag anymore. People would rather rally around their own interests than follow a one size fits all approach to tourism.


    What can people in the tourism and travel market do to revitalize their business and attract people to Japan?


    • ・Refocus with new destinations. Even though fear and avoidance are keeping people away from Japan now, in some ways the crisis has created a resurgence of interest in Japan and Japanese culture. You could wait until people are ready to come back, but it is far better to be proactive and take Japanese culture and products overseas. There are already numerous venues and expos for Japanese culture in foreign countries, such as the Japan EXPO in France, now in its 12th year, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors who want to experience Japan closer to home. There are many untapped opportunities to promote travel inside Japan for the foreign residents who are already familiar with Japan, but want to see another side of the country and culture. Tours can also be organized to areas of Japan far from the affected areas, such as Shikoku or Kyushu.

    • ・Organize hybrid experiences. If you visit a place more than once, you naturally want to see new things and have new experiences. There is a limit to how much you can satisfy this need by simply going to new places. A far better way is to create hybrid experiences. In 2009 we organized an event called Shikoku Muchujin, a tour which invited 5 French bloggers to spend two weeks in Shikoku, introducing aspects of the culture, art, and cuisine in a way from the blogger’s camera and pen, which has more credibility than paid advertising. David Michaud, a French photographer residing in Japan, regularly leads tours in Tokyo and Yokohama, most of whom contact him through his site at People want to experience what the cameraman sees, not just hear what the tour guide tells.

    • ・Engage in niche navigation. Many people would like to travel, but lack the time or money to participate in traditional travel packages. In other words, if the arrangements were more flexible then they would be happy to sign up for things such as mini-getaways to take advantage of 3-day weekends. Working holidays provide a special way to travel and get paid. Eco travel appeals to people who are earth conscious, as well as to those who want to travel off of the beaten path. The Michelin Guide crowned Tokyo the gourmet capital of the world, and that alone should suggest opportunities to organize gourmet travel and cultural experiences for people who love food and culture. Genki Japan organizes projects to promote local value, education, cross-cultural communication through both inward bound and overseas tourism. Their concept is to revitalize Japanese culture and business though projects that rally people around local resources, agriculture, traditional crafts, and Japanese culture.


    The Internet has made it affordable to market to small numbers of people. If you can juggle the savings you can achieve in economies of scale with the ability to reach diverse niches and create customized packages, there are still many opportunities in the tourism and travel market. The traditional approach to tourism is not likely to attract people to Japan the way it used to in the past. Innovation precedes rejuvenation. If you want to succeed you have to offer new destinations and hybrid experiences to people in a way that engages, educates, and entertains.


    William Reed


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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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