Cool! Shiribeshi

We have invited people who have immigrated from abroad and are now living in the Shiribeshi region of central Hokkaido to contribute columns from a variety of perspectives. The columns appear in Japanese in the morning edition of the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper every other Monday. https://www.hokkaido-np.co.jp/series/s_cool_otaru
In this section, the columns are posted in the author's original text.

Special feature

【Column】The importance of domestic tourists for Japan’s tourism industry

Written by Carolus Praet; Professor of International Marketing at Otaru University of Commerce from the Netherlands. He has worked in Otaru for 23 years.

At the start of every course that I teach on international marketing, I talk about the topic of ‘control’. Businesses have control over how they develop and market their products or services, but they typically cannot control elements of the external environment, such as the weather, climate, natural disasters, economic recessions, national and international politics, and pandemics.

At the time of writing, COVID-19 is a stark reminder of environmental forces that businesses cannot control. Businesses also have no influence on governmental restrictions on international travel, border control, and domestic lockdowns. Especially in the tourism industry businesses around the world are feeling the crunch, and Japan’s tourism industry is no exception, in spite of the government’s “Go-to travel” campaign trying to stir up domestic travel demand through big subsidies.

In 2003, prime minister Junichiro Koizumi launched the initiative to make Japan one of the major destinations for international tourists in an attempt to make Japan less reliant on its domestic tourists whose numbers were declining because of a shrinking and ageing population, and to stimulate regional economies in Japan. This initiative has been tremendously successful, to the extent that while Japan only welcomed 5.2 million in 2003, this number had risen to almost 31.9 million foreign visitors in 2019.

While Japanese media have concentrated on the increase of foreign tourists and the positive impact this has had on the Japanese economy, it is good to remember that, even in 2019, of the 26.8 trillion yen spent on travel inside Japan, Japanese tourists spent 22 trillion yen or 82 percent of the total, whereas inbound tourists spent 4.8 trillion yen, or 18 percent of the total.

In January of 2015, we surveyed Japanese and foreign guests at the world-renowned NISEKO resort. Many of the foreign guests told us that while they loved the powder snow, they felt disappointed to see so many foreigners, but so few Japanese at the resort, and that the resort provided not enough authentic Japanese culture as part of the experience. The Japanese guests too, were surprised by the overwhelming presence of foreign guests and felt that the resort was not catering enough to the needs of its Japanese guests. These reactions were no doubt the result of the resorts’ strategic decision to focus mainly on foreign customers, a decision which probably made sense at the time, but appeared to be already starting to backfire at the time of the survey, with more and more foreign guests moving on to other ski resorts in Japan that were perceived to offer more authentic, Japanese experiences, including a larger presence of Japanese guests.

While it will remain important for Japanese destinations and tourism businesses to cater to foreign tourists in the future, not only will domestic tourists need to remain the core customers for the Japanese tourism industry to withstand the negative economic impact of uncontrollable external forces such as pandemics, the presence of Japanese guests is also crucial to provide authentic experiences to foreign visitors.

It is thus crucial for the Japanese tourism sector to have a strong base of Japanese customers not only for the sake of the economic sustainability of the tourism industry, but also to improve the experience of the inbound tourists, once they will be able to visit Japan again in a post-COVID world.

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