We are not your enemy We need to keep the business going as much as you do
The other day, after the kick-off of the Japan Outbound Tourism Council, I asked a rep of a European NTO (national tourism organization) to work with us (JATA) so that we can both (his respective destination) and JATA members benefit from what the Council was going to do. That rep, though, was somewhat defensive and though not explicitly, told me that there was little he could do because JATA was working only for the benefit of its members.
First of all, I was shocked by the lack of willingness to give this initiative a chance.
Yes, JATA works for its member companies. After all, they pay a membership fee and the association exists to support their business. Yet, what JATA does is far from being a one way street. As travel agencies in Japan still hold 70% of the outbound travel market, it is only natural to work with their representative (aka JATA) to create a win-win situation for both the Japanese agencies and overseas destinations.
The problems I see are:
- Misconception about the characteristics and demographics of the Japanese overseas travel market.
I do not want to offend anybody her. I am sure that all the reps marketing their destinations have done their work and studied the figures of the Japanese market. Yet,
a/ 70% of the overseas visitors still book their tours through travel agencies. They do some research online, mark several options for their next holiday and eventually go to their travel agent who helps them conclude their purchasing decision.
b/ The 60+ population now constitutes more than 1/4 of the Japanese nation and will continue to be at least as large if not larger in the next 10-15 years.
The national tourism organizations and the travel agencies in Japan are at cross-purposes.
The destinations and services which local governments want to sell do not meet the expectations and what is in demand by Japanese travelers. What does it mean? Think about selling beefsteaks to Hindu people. It sounds extreme, doesn’t it? In tourism marketing terms: selling Black Sea resorts to Japanese travelers for example. There are at least a half dozen reasons why Japanese overseas goers do not look for spending time in Black Sea resorts despite the fact that those facilities (be they in Romania, Georgia or any other country in the region) offer good quality services and accommodation and are considered the best places for summer vacations by locals and many in the neighboring countries.
Also, some national tourism organizations that promote in Japan have decided that the FIT market is their market and are now promoting mostly online. Yes, the Net is where we all meet at some point in time and where we all find information about this and that. However, such NTOs have seen the number of the Japanese visitors dwindle over the years. Yet, they still reason that the decrease is due to the declining birth rate and consequently the smaller number of young people. I do not know why such NTOs remain blind to the fact that the population of the 60+ years olds is growing and it will continue to be substantially large over the next 10-15 years. People with time and money on their hands are increasing AND these people prefer to use the services of travel agencies.
The majority of them are NOT FIT travelers!
Travel agencies need to cater to the needs of heavy-repeater overseas travelers (see our previous post for reference). To be able to do that they need new destinations even within the legacy destinations. For example, last year, JATA ran a “30 most beautiful villages in Europe” The purpose??
To discover and offer new, unexplored places which will keep their customers happy. Thirty towns and villages in a number of European were selected and new tour products have been on the market for more than a year now. Thanks to those tour products Japanese travelers have been going to local areas which had not been advertised by the respective countries’ NTOs before. My take on this is that the NTOs did not advertise such areas as, among other reasons, they were not easily accessible for their FIT target segment.
Here I need to say that quite a few NTOs have indeed been supportive and have provided a lot of assistance to the tour operators and travel agencies involved in the Team EUROPE Project.
But is sending customers to your destination (albite not the place you initially promoted) a bad thing? And why can’t we all see the benefit for the destination as well? Yes, the travel agencies kept their customers happy by finding places which were not first recommended by the respective NTOs but which met the needs of the market. Talking to travel agencies and giving them the information they need will be beneficial for you, too. It may not be so in the way you absolutely want it to be but the final result of sending more Japanese visitors to your country will be there. We are all links in the same market chain. If we work together, exchange information and understand what the advantages are, all sides involved will be in the position to further these advantages and achieve better results.
One more thing worth noting: It is true that legacy destinations like France, Britain, Germany, Hawaii, etc. get “a lot” (in relative terms) of FIT visitors from Japan. But if you have a look at the demographics of those visitors, you will realize that they are mostly young people – predominantly (single) women – in the 25-45 age bracket. They travel solo or with a couple of friends but as they are in active working age or have a family, their time for traveling is still relatively limited (you know that taking long holidays in Japan is still a very difficult affair.) And many of those women still use the so called “skeleton packages” consisting of flight tickets and hotel accommodation. Guess what? They book those packages through travel agencies, too.
If you work with travel agencies, chances are that you will grow the number of visitors to your destination. And no, there is no problem with your efforts to grow your FIT customer base. After all, we all know that FIT is the future even in Japan. But before we get to that future, let’s work together and not blame each other for working for their own interest only.
We are not your enemy. We are not there to steal your customer base. Rather, we could be your partner. If you let us be. And we could work with you for a common goal. IF you let us do so.