By Raena Murakami, Public Relations and Communications Co-Director
When you think of traveling in Japan, what destinations come to mind? Most people would say Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and other well-known cities. But what about Togakushi? With Golden Week approaching, Chiara Terzuolo and Rie Miyoshi challenged our notions of travel in Japan by encouraging travelers to explore beyond the typical cities and make the most of the varied experiences that Japan has to offer. They also brought to light important issues that the Japanese tourism industry faces in bringing inbound tourists to hidden and undiscovered regions in the country.
Chiara Terzuolo of Veltra shared that the number of foreign visitors to Japan has reached new heights: in 2016, Japan surpassed its original target of 20 million foreign visitors for the 2020 Olympics, and now has a new goal of attracting 40 million tourists by 2020. However, she also highlighted several issues the government faces as it works to reach that goal, including the language barrier, the lack of infrastructure to handle the growing number of tourists, and the gap between what visitors want and what tours and other activities offer them. But Japan can rise to challenge.
Chiara explained that some improvements the government can make include relaxing visa policies for visitors and tailoring tours and activities so that they fit the interests of foreign tourists. She also noted that tourist boards should focus on targeting travelers from countries that make up the majority of foreign visitors, such as China, Taiwan, South Korea, and ASEAN countries. She added that making Wi-Fi and ATM accessible, as well as providing accessibility for travelers with disabilities, would help boost tourism to more regions in the country.
Rie Miyoshi of Outdoor Japan promotes local regions in Japan, especially for outdoor travel and activities. She shared that many foreigners aren’t aware of the wide range of experiences they can have in Japan, beyond the typical tourist attractions. She consults with tourism boards to find unique locales for tourists so that they can discover less-known, hidden places or “secret villages.” She explained that regional tourist boards should share their stories and boost promotion in order to increase the number of visitors. According to Rie, it’s Japan’s little, unique details and experiences that keep tourists coming back to the country. She also noted there are many cheap, versatile, and accessible outdoor activities that are close to major cities like Tokyo and can be done in a day. Japan is a country that offers something for everyone.
Chiara and Rie work with local tourist offices to help them hone what to promote that would appeal to inbound tourists. They both emphasized the importance of branding for the individual prefectures, especially considering the different attractions available across different tourist destinations. For instance, Kyoto already attracts a lot of visitors and therefore does not do a lot of promotion. But a smaller city like Kawagoe has also done a great job of promoting itself as a traditional castle town and has attracted many tourists. Other regions are promoting festivals or art exhibits to draw tourists. These regions need to continue to promote themselves to raise awareness of their unique cultural offerings.
And what were their top picks for Golden Week? Chiara recommends Hakuba, even in the green season, and Izu Oshima, a volcanic island, which is accessible by ferry from Tokyo. Rie enjoys Niijima, a beautiful beach island, and Niigata for onsen, outdoor activities, and great food.
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