According to the survey, which examined attitudes to Japan among citizens in 14 Asian cities, nearly 40 per cent of those in Singapore and Manila, 30 per cent in Guangzhou and 25 per cent in Bangkok intend to travel to Japan. In Singapore, roughly half of those have visited previously, but the majority in the other cities has not.
There is also strong interest in the country from travellers in Hong Kong and Taipei, where around 60 to 65 per cent have both visited and wish to return. Residents of those cities listed Hokkaido as their preferred destination, while other respondents predominantly want to visit Tokyo.
In Seoul, intent to visit was lower than experience of visiting (26 per cent compared to 43 per cent). Hakuhodo suggests that “innovating the way Japan is promoted in Korea including sending messages about new charms of the country” holds potential for developing repeat visitors and new segments.
Along with sightseeing and sampling food, shopping ranks highly on the tourist agenda—perhaps even more so than usual given the weak yen. 70 per cent of respondents with intent to visit selected one or more shopping categories as a draw. The top three product categories respondents listed include clothes and fashion accessories (49 per cent), home appliances (42 per cent) and cosmetics and skincare supplements (38 per cent). These were followed by watches and fashion jewellery (35 per cent), pharmaceuticals (22 per cent) and childcare products (12 per cent).
The study found a positive perception towards products made in Japan among those inclined to visit. Nearly 80 per cent said they saw Japanese products as being “excellent quality”. In terms of ‘made in Japan’ items people would like to buy, digital products ranked highest (74 per cent), followed by household appliances (73 per cent), passenger cars (48 per cent), fashion (45 per cent) and skincare products (43 per cent).
Satoshi Oyama, R&D director at Hakuhodo, said the fact that the modern aspects of Japan and shopping are as appealing as cultural tourism was notable. “Among the world’s major tourist destinations, Japan is possibly the only one for which tourists give purchasing this wide array of the country’s products as a key reason for visiting,” Oyama said. He added that reality tended to live up to people’s expectations, with those who have visited Japan having an even stronger affinity for products made there than those who have yet to visit.
Oyama said however that he did not think Japan, and Japanese brands, were doing enough to maximise the potential for sales created by inbound tourists. “The business of attracting tourists and the business of promoting the quality of Japanese products are undertaken by completely different bodies, and there is no linkage of the two at present,” he said.
There are some initiatives, “such as home appliance discounters stocking large numbers of rice cookers and bidet toilets for tourists,” but “these are retailer, not brand, efforts”, Oyama pointed out. He said Japanese brands “need to build a way to ensure that tourists remain repeat customers and fans of Japanese products and services after they return to their home countries”.
Oyama suggested there was potential for local authorities (with central government support) to work with the tourism industry to create packages around product and brand sales.
“For instance, people who visit one place to enjoy the outdoors and food unique to that area, then head off to Tokyo Disneyland, and then shop their hearts out in Tokyo, might be interested in a tour of a single area where they can take in modern-day Japan and go somewhere such as outlet or shopping malls where they can shop for products other than souvenirs,” he said. “In this way, they could enjoy traditional Japan, nature, modern-day Japan and shopping, all without leaving the area.”
Broadening travellers’ horizons
Given that most travellers polled are focused on well-known travel destinations within Japan, Oyama said less high profile prefectures should take stock of their tourism resources and rethink their efforts to attract people.
“They need to look through the eyes of international visitors to see what traditional attractions, natural areas, modern-day attractions, food and local speciality products they have, as well as places where tourists might buy products and brands, and put this information up on their websites in various languages,” he suggested. “It is also essential that they create opportunities for Asia tour companies and media to visit their area to learn about its attractions and experience local hospitality. This is something some local governments are already doing.”
With word-of-mouth an important motivating factor for Asian consumers, Oyama said he saw opportunity for local governments and brands to “tie up to conduct sales promotion campaigns throughout Asia”.
“One idea might be to offer a prize of a trip to a regional area of Japan, on condition that the winner writes about their trip on social media every day,” he said. “There are all kinds of possibilities.”