Rural depopulation is a serious issue in modern Japan. While the younger generation is moving from the countryside to major cities and metropolitan areas in growing numbers, the aging population is being left behind. This trend is leading to a decrease in revenues as well as lower consumption of goods and services in a number of prefectures.
As one possible solution to this emerging problem, local governments in Japan have started putting more efforts into developing strategies specifically aimed at increasing the number of tourists and other visitors, and with good reason: Statistics show that just 8 foreign tourists can equal the amount of consumption of 80 Japanese tourists.
So far, steps taken in order to increase the number of foreign tourists have been highly effective for a number of locales, and local governments have been using digital marketing to achieve many of these results.
Social media in particular, serves a significant role in regional tourism marketing and promotion. Compared to other conventional promotion methods, social media promotion is relatively inexpensive and has a good balance of cost to performance if done correctly.
Let’s look at some of the most successful examples of regional tourism promotion campaigns in Japan.
Kobe Tourism Bureau
Kobe used to be one of the 5 largest cities in Japan with its population of more than 1.5 million. Unfortunately, it has dropped in the rankings to 7th place currently, as more and more people move to other, bigger cities. The Kobe Tourism Bureau took on this issue as a chance to promote its sights to foreign tourists. They created a site called “FeelKobe,” targeting foreign users who were interested in Japanese culture. Utilizing the user data from Facebook helped the bureau to target the right audience and narrow down their efforts to focus on those who were interested in tourism in Japan. Additionally, the bureau also regularly uploaded promotional videos for 10 months and, as a result, were able to gain over 30k followers and more than 840k views on their promotional videos. As of January 2019, the official Facebook page has more than 100k followers.
It all started with a single picture of a monkey relaxing in a hot spring. Thanks to that one picture, the Yudanaka Shibu Onsen (Yudanaka Shibu Spa) in Nagano prefecture went viral. Tourists visiting the spa shared their own photos of the monkeys enjoying the hot springs on social media, which greatly contributed to the promotion of the area. At some point these bathing macaques received the moniker “Snow Monkey,” which has become a popular hashtag on Instagram (As of January 2019, the hashtag reached 48k posts on Instagram).
Besides the unique habits of the Japanese macaques, Nagano prefecture is also famous for winter sports. In 2017, the entire prefecture had over 1.3 million foreign visitors in total, of which 33% visited during the winter season. The official Instagram account of Hakuba city, one of the major destinations for ski-lovers, has more than 24k followers and more than 222k tagged photos.
As a result of continuous promotional campaigns, Nagano prefecture became the first, and only, Japanese prefecture featured in CNN Travel in 2018.
Nikko, in Tochigi Prefecture, is a popular sightseeing spot that is easily accessible from Tokyo. Tourists can take a bus or a train and get to Nikko City in less than an hour. Nikko City is famous for having the World Heritage Site “Nikko Tosho-gu Shrine,” various hot springs including the historical Kinugawa hot spring, and abundant nature with a number of waterfalls, forests, and fields, sights that cannot be seen in the concrete jungle of central Tokyo.
Tobu Railway, one of the main companies in charge of promoting the Nikko area, is highly skilled when it comes to utilizing social media and have received over 176k followers on the company’s official Facebook page. One of the approaches that Tobu Railway took to attract more Chinese visitors in particular, was to invite two popular influencers to tourist spots along the Tobu Railway, in addition to the main Nikko area. These bloggers were then able to promote the sites on their social media to raise the awareness of the Nikko city among the Chinese population. Tobu Railway even has their own Weibo, a Chinese social media platform with over 700 million users, and WeChat account as well.
Kyoto is by far one of the most famous cities in Japan for tourists. Both “Fushimi Inari Taisha” shrine and “Kiyomizudera” temple have ranked among the top 10 popular sightseeing spots in Japan in 2017 according to TripAdvisor (1st and 6th place respectively). The official Facebook page of Kyoto City itself has over 500k followers and likes; while Instagram has over 200k photos with the hashtag “kiyomizudera” as of January 2019.
Kiyomizudera temple has not only its Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube account, but also its own Tumblr account. This helps to appeal to a wider and more unique user base. As one might imagine, given Kyoto’s reputation as one of the most attractive Japanese cities, the tourism industry in Kyoto makes good use of all visually-centric social media platforms. Photogenic scenes and events such as the autumn foliage, and evening winter lights of the major tourist areas are always popular posts. The majority of the images on the official Instagram account of Kiyomizudera temple, which has over 167k followers as of January 2019, are all beautiful sceneries taken professionally with ultra-high-resolution cameras that help the shrine seem even more “instagenic.”
Other small-scale, but successful examples of regional promotions include:
・Gifu Prefecture Shirakawa-go. The official account does area promotion on Instagram actively interacting with Instagram users and reposting tagged pictures of Shirakawa-go. They have over 14k followers and saw over 650k visitors to the area in 2017.
・The Visit Kochi Japan Facebook page achieved 10k followers in just 3 months. Posts were written by native English speakers and images were selected carefully to make the content look sleek and appealing. Content was thoroughly analyzed and demographic results were reflected in the future posts.
・Chichibu City YouTube and Facebook: Chichibu City in Saitama prefecture reached over 1.2 million visitors in 4 years with the help of YouTube and Facebook. The local government regularly uploaded promotional videos on YouTube and posted information for tourists in English on Facebook. Although Chichibu City has never ranked among attractive sightseeing spots within Japan, it slowly generated interest from foreign visitors who were looking for a close-by getaway from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
How to Succeed with Regional Promotion in Japan
So far, we’ve focused on success stories of regional promotion and tourism marketing in Japan. However, it goes without saying that there are also many examples of failures as well. What then, can one do to prevent such failures and launch a successful campaign?
The primary language used when marketing to foreign tourists can be in English. From there, according to the country whose people you are trying to reach, you can make a separate social media account or a website in the country’s native language. Having a website in Chinese and English alone can already cover the majority of the tourist base though.
One thing to watch out for is that having too many unique accounts in different languages might confuse tourists and dilute potential follower count. It will also prevent the people managing the accounts to regularly upload and manage content while maintaining the same level of quality.
Finally, related to this topic of language is the issue of effective copywriting. Copywriting is hard to nail, especially when it is done in another language. However, if potential visitors cannot understand what is written on a post, there is no point in posting or sharing the information because it would not serve its purpose. Poorly translated materials usually leave a poor impression on those who see the ad and will confuse them, rather than attract them.
Choose the Right Platform
Studying the social media and digital landscape in a particular country is another important factor which can determine success with regional tourism marketing efforts. For example, LINE/Whatsapp/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram are banned in China: instead Chinese people have their own version of each of these social media platforms such as WeChat, a messaging app, Weibo a SNS similar to Twitter, and Renren, which resembles Facebook. WeChat and Weibo are the two main SNS in China, therefore, when creating an ad or a campaign, the marketer must take into account these platforms in addition to thinking about what kind of contents they will need to upload.
Other potential pitfalls to achieving your regional tourism marketing goals that are typical after new social media accounts are created include failing to regularly upload contents, being behind the upload schedule, or in the worst case, abandoning the account altogether. Consistency matters and successful accounts are those that post quality content on a regular basis.
Don’t Forget About Repeat Visitors
Last but not least is ignoring repeat visitors. Tourists from close-by countries such as China, Taiwan, Korea actually tend to visit Japan multiple times. A lot of tourists share their adventure in Japan on social media, so reaching out to them and showing appreciation is a key to leaving a good impression that would make them consider revisiting Japan.
Regional Tourism Marketing Efforts and the Olympics
Forty million people are expected to visit Japan during the 2020 Olympics. However, regional promotion efforts will not succeed in a day and it takes planning and hard work to achieve results. In the next year we can expect more and more local governments in Japan to start ramping up their regional tourism marketing efforts to reflect the influx of visitors to the country building up to the Tokyo Olympics.
Have questions or want to talk about tourism marketing in Japan? Contact us to find out how Wasabi can help.