Asian NTOs in quandary over Japan

ASIAN NTO chiefs meeting at PATA say they are mulling about what to do with the Japan market, which has been in a serious decline following the tsunami.

Tourism Malaysia is expecting a 30 per cent drop this year in the Japan market, its ninth largest source last year with 415,881 visitors.

For a destination like Guam, things are worse: even after an attempt to diversify the business mix since the 90s, Japan still accounts for 74 per cent of all its international arrivals, from over 90 per cent before. Business is immediately down 15 per cent to18 per cent, said Guam Visitor Bureau (GVB) general manager Gerry Perez.

Hong Kong Tourist Board (HKTB) is expecting the market to decline by 20 per cent and is “watching the situation like a hawk”, said HKTB executive director, Anthony Lau.

PATA is projecting a 10 per cent in Japan outbound overall this year as a result of the crisis, but Asian NTO chiefs such as Tourism Malaysia’s acting director Dato Azizan Noordin said the fall-out was definitely bigger than 10 per cent for Malaysia.

“This is why it is so important that we have real, up-to-date insights into the market, so we are able to work out a plan with Japan’s outbound agents, airlines and media to stimulate the market to travel again. Now might not be the right time probably to do any hardselling, but we need to hear from the horse’s mouth, ie, from the outbound agents themselves, when will the right time be, or whether we could promote in other parts of Japan which aren’t affected by the tsunami,” said Azizan.

He said that although Tourism Malaysia could rely on its offices in Tokyo and Osaka for the sentiment on the ground, this only covered the perspective of agents it does business with. “A bigger perspective covering the Japan outbound market is needed, so we could learn where the various opportunities are, and this I feel is the priority PATA should focus on, especially when we are confronted with not just Japan, but the Middle East (crisis).”

Perez said that the quandary was whether or not to market in Japan. “Some believe that no matter how much money you pour in during this period, it’s not going to produce results due to the psychological factor. But I personally believe that to completely pull out is also not a good idea, as you want to be top-of-mind when sentiments change.”

GVB is rolling out a campaign appealing to Japanese travellers in western and northern Japan to “take two to three days off as a kind of a healing process”. It is also stepping up investment in South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Perez said that not only was Guam seeing a decline in Japan visitors as a result of the so-called “psychological factor”, it was seeing a drop in arrivals from markets such as South Korea, which perceived Guam as equally unsafe due to it three-hour proximity to Japan.

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