3 lessons travel marketers can take away from Japan

When it comes to travel marketing, it is not always about the numbers, Russell Young, managing director, Asia Pacific, Sojern, says


At first glance, one would think that Japan’s travel industry was well-positioned for strong growth over the medium term, capitalising on the depreciation of the Japanese yen and the easing of visa requirements for countries in the region.

After all, growth seemed more than healthy – in 2016, the number of visitors rose 21.8 per cent to 24.04 million, while spending grew 7.8 per cent to US$33 billion, both all-time highs. The country in 2Q2017 also welcomed a record of 7.2 million tourists.

But (sustaining growth is hard work) and beneath the impressive numbers are some underlying problems faced by Japan’s travel industry.


Over-dependence on existing origin markets
It’s the classic case of sticking to what you know, and for Japan, that means a myopic focus on the Chinese and South Korean markets, the latter of which grew by almost 70 per cent in the period of April to July 2017. No matter how consistently strong these origin markets are, they are not enough – especially if Japan is to meet its lofty goal of doubling the number of inbound tourists to 40 million by 2020, the year it plays host to the Olympics and Paralympic Games.

Glaringly, Japan is missing out on crucial opportunities to grow its market, such as the US which emerges fourth largest searching origin, as well as the UK and Germany which make the Top 10, as revealed by a report we produced with Google.

Poor conversion rates
Research shows that Japan lags behind other countries in converting non-Asian tourists from ‘considering’ to ‘visiting’, which would explain why non-Asian visitors accounted for just 16 per cent of international tourists to Japan. Japan marketers need to learn more about what actually happens during the user journey in order to push would-be travellers through funnel to conversion – and that means looking at the right data.

Himeji Castle, with Mount Fuji in the background

So what lessons can travel marketers take away from Japan’s situation, keeping in mind these challenges?

1. Look beyond conversion rates
With the heavy emphasis on performance-driven marketing and ROI, there has been too much focus on conversion rates; it’s all about the bottom-line. However, there are other equally (if not more) important metrics that are being overlooked by travel marketers, such as:

• Rate of change in travel intent – Understanding which are the origins with the fastest growing travel intent can help marketers improve their geo-targeting
• Top alternative destination searched by origin – Knowing where they face tough competition (whether from regional destinations or international heavyweights) enables marketers to get in front of indecisive travellers while they are considering which destination to visit
• Timing and planning trends – Being aware of how long users from different countries take to plan their trips, whether this is months in advance or left until the last-minute, will help marketers ensure that their ads reach and engage travellers throughout this window

2. Understand the user’s journey across devices
In our connected world, cross-device is practically a given, but there are additional nuances to users’ online behaviour that travel marketers should take into consideration. It is true, for instance, that APAC travellers are becoming increasingly mobile-first, using their devices mainly as a tool for research, especially when they are higher up in the travel funnel. However, as users move further down the funnel, desktop dominates the share of bookings, standing at 85-90 per cent.

Ultimately, it’s the marketers who pay attention to such details when engaging in a cross-device, multi-platform campaign that would be far more successful in reducing drop-offs and driving conversions.

3. Engage on new channels and ad formats
It’s high time travel marketers think about engaging users on new channels and with new ad formats. This is especially so with mobile ad-blocking on the rise in the region – a problem exacerbated by the fact that the majority of travel-related search activity happens on mobile. With mobile growth increasingly led by an ongoing shift towards video, marketers should also consider using video to inspire travellers to choose their brand, and offering.

Besides side-stepping the ad-blocker issue, the presentation of content in a non-traditional ad format appeals to users who crave authenticity. Already we are seeing travel brands starting to catch on, such as Tourism Australia, which has just partnered up with BuzzFeed as part of a US$10 million push to attract millennial travellers.

On Facebook, there are multiple ad formats too, each designed to captivate and engage in different ways. In addition to the Canvas Ads that can be made up of full screen videos and images, and Carousell Ads that allows users to swipe or click through to see more, Facebook’s Dynamic Ads for Travel in particularly, is completely bespoke to the needs of travel marketers.

Then of course there’s cross-device targeting as part of this multi-channel approach, so marketers can link up user behaviour across multiple devices.

Japan may be the world’s third-largest economy, but to travel marketers, it is still a developing market worth watching and studying for nuanced changes and opportunities – especially as it continues to be pitted against other equally attractive destinations in the region.

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