David Blecken
Mar 8, 2016

Whitepaper points to two tiers of Chinese visitors to Japan

TOKYO - Chinese tourists account for the lion’s share of travel to Japan, and while they still flock to buy everything from luxury bags to toilet seats, tastes are evolving and interest in culture is growing, according to a whitepaper published by Dentsu and 6Estates.

Tokyo remains Japan's top destination but independent travellers are exploring further afield
Tokyo remains Japan's top destination but independent travellers are exploring further afield

‘Enter the dragon: a portrait of Chinese travellers to Japan’ is based on analysis of around 70,000 online data points between October and December 2015, covering social-networking sites, travel-review sites, travel forums and travel Q&A sites.

Some key take-home points from the paper are:

Political tension does not get in the way of a good holiday

The study notes that Chinese travellers have replaced Koreans as the largest group of foreign visitors to Japan, suggesting that diplomatic issues have little bearing on the attitudes and behaviour of individual consumers. Around 4.3 million Chinese tourists visited the country between January and October 2015—close to a quarter of total tourists.

Shopping is still the top draw

Globally, Chinese tourists spent US$165 billion, the bulk of it on shopping and in particular luxury goods. The figure is expected to rise to $265 billion by 2019. Japan is a major beneficiary, thanks to a combination of world-leading shopping facilities, the weak yen, and Hong Kong’s decline in popularity as a shopping destination. During Chinese New Year in 2015, Chinese tourists spent $1 billion in Japan.

Analysis in the report shows that shopping-related words outweighed those relating to culture and heritage. Tokyo is understandably still the prime destination and is seen as affordable, with “good deals relative to China”, as well as a top global city in which to buy luxury items.

Travellers fall into two distinct groups, and spend accordingly

The image of raucous Chinese tour groups persists around the world, but things are changing fast. Group travel does still dominate Chinese visits to Japan, but “its growth is slowing while independent tourism is rising meteorically”, the paper notes. Four in 10 Chinese travellers are now believed to be independent.

Independent travellers set aside a good portion of their budget for purchases they believe will enhance their social status, such as luxury goods, cosmetics and kimonos. They also seek out once-in-a-lifetime gourmet experiences. They do not limit themselves to Tokyo: given that they are often repeat travellers, they are much more likely to forego tourist haunts for more local experiences.

Group travellers, by contrast, continue to seek out practical purchases like household appliances, and are most likely to shop in department stores. The factors that unite the two groups are a love of Ginza, Tokyo’s best-known high-end shopping destination, and Akihabara, also known as ‘Electric Town’ for its abundance of electronic-goods retailers.

In short, independent travellers can be seen as adventurous, indulgent and somewhat narcissistic, according to the paper. They do not wish to be seen in the same light as package tourists. Group travellers are predominantly looking for bargains and no more than a brief sampling of Japan’s main attractions.

Interest in culture is growing

Shopping and eating are of course not the only reasons Chinese people visit Japan, and the paper even suggests escaping smog-choked cities for a few days in a cleaner environment might be one motivation. Certainly, many visitors are shown to be sensitive to a change in atmosphere. Words used to describe Tokyo include “unique”, “romantic”, “happy”, “quiet”, “charming” and “convenient”.

In order, the paper lists top cultural draws as Mount Fuji, Osaka Castle, Kinkakuji temple in Kyoto, and the Sensoji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. Aside from Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hokkaido and Okinawa are the most popular travel destinations.

“Though shopping still dominates…materialistic tendencies are being tempered by a real, deep interest in the natural and cultural sights of Japan,” the paper notes, attributing this data to the growth of independent travellers who want more than “brash commercialised playgrounds”.

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