I recently read this report done by McKinsey & Company, entitled “The Future of Japan’s Tourism: Path for sustainable growth towards 2020. It is a very timely article and really hit on a lot of points that I have both heard and experienced during my travels in Japan.
Some of the key points:
Inbound tourism is a huge opportunity:
- The growth of inbound tourism in Japan has grown by 33% per year from 2011 to 2015 – among the fastest in the world.
- A lot of this growth can be attributed to the weakening of the Yen and liberalized visa policies for Asian countries.
- The Japanese government has recognized the positive impact to the economy and has set aggressive growth targets to 40 million visitors by 2020, when the Tokyo will host the Summer Olympics.
- The government also wants to increase tourism in the less developed areas outside of the major metropolitan areas as a means to revitalize the economies in less-populous regions.
However, there are challenges:
East Asian visitors account for 72 percent of the international visits, largely driven by Chinese travelers.
- 48% of the current visitors confine their travels to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
- Based on arrivals forecasts, there will be huge capacity gaps in lodging, especially in the major cities – up to a 50% shortage in the Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
Japanese authorities and been working to solve the imbalance in visitor profiles, increase promotion to the less populous regions and increase lodging capacity, but McKinsey concludes that addressing the first two points are quite a monumental undertaking and requires a coordinated effort and goes on to make some recommendations.
Some of the supporting points in the article really hit home to me as one of the “Western Visitors” that they wish to attract more of. The article cites that while Japan is a favored destination, and while trip satisfaction is very high, many Western visitors are challenged by:
- The perception that Japan is a very expensive place to travel (it’s not if you have been reading my blog). One of the reasons cited was the lack of local hotel availability on global websites and even the individual property’s website. This is very true – finding hotels in the local areas can be a real challenge. Most of the global booking sites point only to the most expensive properties in a destination.
- Lack of awareness of tourism assets (especially in the less populous areas). Again, one of the reasons cited was the lack of foreign customer awareness both with promotions and how tourism is represented on local tourism websites. Even though I can read Japanese, I have found most of them pretty useless.
- Limited service model in local areas – including basic infrastructure like English language operation. This is so true. Even though I know some Japanese language, it still is a challenge to find my way around, and also many sites and attractions are not geared to non-Japanese tastes and travel patterns. One example of this would be solo travel, where most tourist sites are focused on group activities. I find this particularly true in dining venues where solo dining would be seen as very awkward, not to mention expensive.
While you may find that there are many exceptions to this – there are excellent travel websites and mobile applications out there that are geared to addressing these gaps, overall the resources and efforts are very scattered and uncoordinated.
The McKinsey report goes on to make some recommendations around developing closer cooperation between the public and private sector which makes sense.
One Western Japan expert at Japan Inc that runs one of the better websites that address the more hard-to-discover areas Japantravel.com outlines some of the challenges the government is having to address the opportunities.
There certainly are some commercial opportunities we should all be aware of. In the meantime, however, I relish in the challenge of getting around the less-populated, affordable places and I still can enjoy them before everyone else discovers them!
You can find the link to the full report here: The Future of Japan’s Tourism