Babar Khan Javed
Oct 18, 2017

Japan wants 40 million visitors in 2020. First it has to find them.

Japan has set the ambitious goal of increasing inbound tourist visits from around 28 million this year to 40 million in 2020. The managing director of Sojern explains how data and programmatic buying can help.

Russell Young, the managing director of Asia Pacific at Sojern, shares how tourism marketers in Japan can attract qualified travelers.
Russell Young, the managing director of Asia Pacific at Sojern, shares how tourism marketers in Japan can attract qualified travelers.

In the second quarter of 2017, Japan welcomed a record 7.2 million visitors. And with tourism at the core of its economic growth strategy, the country has set a target of welcoming 40 million visitors in 2020.

To help the tourism industry get there, Google and Sojern released a jointly produced report titled "Japan Travel Report" that reveals inbound travel trends and tourist behavior.

Chief among the report's findings: While Tokyo and Osaka are the top two spots booked by international travelers, Japan is on the brink of an accommodation shortage in these two cities. This suggests that there is a need to grow awareness of and increase traffic to destinations outside of major cities.

According to the report, the fastest-rising searched destinations are Hakodate, Shirakawa, Minamitsuru District, Sapporo, and Fujinomiya.

Campaign Asia-Pacific spoke with Russell Young, the managing director of Asia Pacific at Sojern to understand how the tourism industry can start preparing Japan to meet its target.

How can marketers in Japan advertise to inbound tourists more effectively?

40 million visitors are, by all standards, an ambitious target, this notwithstanding the healthy growth rate of inbound tourism in Japan, which hit 7.2 million visitors in the second quarter of 2017. What this means is that Japan marketers really need to step up their game. They need to think about what they ought to be doing to expand their outreach beyond existing origin markets like Malaysia and South Korea. To that effect, they must be aware of where interest is rising. For example, at Sojern we know that travel intent for Japan is actually extremely global. In fact, markets with the fastest growing travel intent include Chile, Argentina, and Colombia, demonstrating that LATAM markets are increasingly interested in traveling to Japan. To look only at existing source markets, no matter how consistently strong these are, is simply too shortsighted an approach. 

By leveraging real-time travel intent data and insights to travel preferences such as dates searched and specific in-market destinations, Japanese marketers can accurately target travelers who are in the market and actively searching for trips to Japan, with highly personalized content served at the right point in the path to purchase. This would enable marketers to successfully push customers through the purchase funnel, from the top stages of dreaming and discovery to true conversion.

At the same time, using travel intent data goes beyond the usual lookalike modeling offered by most programmatic technology partners. After all, here we are no longer just talking about growing a larger audience based on a smaller segment of high-value customers; we’re talking about growing an audience based on individual intent and behavioural signals, whether or not they happen to exhibit the same sort of geographical, psychographic and demographic data that is usually used to build an audience in lookalike modelling. With the lofty goal of 40 million visitors in 2020 set, it is important for Japanese marketers to leverage real-time data, in order to target the right travelers at the right time with the right message, therefore maximising marketing budget and increasing conversions.

What happens after an individual’s initial search for travel destinations? What are the reasons for drop-offs before they reach the conversion stage?

Ideally, after an individual’s initial search, the savvy marketer would have already found a way to stay “top of mind”, and to continuously nurture travelers through to booking.

Realistically, what tends to happen in this day and age where consumers have access to an unprecedented level of content, is that these individuals might start looking at alternatives. Travellers who may initially be interested in Japan are likely to look at the regional competition when shopping for a destination. What our research shows is that the origin of these individuals actually has a significant impact on which competitive destinations they take into consideration. For example, APAC travelers most often search for South Korea alongside Japan, followed by Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, and China.

It is important for marketers to be aware of this and adapt their marketing strategies as appropriate, especially given the long booking cycle for most inbound travelers. We’ve found that more than half of all searches from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore and Australia to Japan are for travel two months or move in advance, and logically so, given these countries are farther away. 

Another thing that might happen is that these individuals might move on to different devices so that a marketer that isn’t engaging in a cross-device, multi-platform strategy could then potentially lose track of them. We discovered that travelers to Japan typically began their online journey on mobile, usually to conduct research. This was especially true in mobile-first APAC, where almost half of in-region travel queries for Japan came from mobile phones. However, our research also revealed a drop in mobile as users moved from search to booking, demonstrating that travelers frequently moved cross-device, from mobile to desktop, as they come closer to their travel purchase.

Nevertheless, if marketers realize the importance of getting in front and staying in front of indecisive travelers in the shopping stage, as well as just how crucial it is to engage in a cross-device, multi-platform campaign, they will be far more successful in reducing drop-offs and driving conversions.

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