Indonesian outbound agents are seeing a budding interest in sakura tours outside Japan, a trend driven by cost as well as the growing number of destinations offering such products.
Putu Ayu Aristyadewi, group vice president marketing & communications at Smailing Tour, noted: “We have seen demand for sakura tours in South Korea rising over the last two years, but the upsurge in bookings has been happening since last year. We had three sakura packages to South Korea last season, and all were fully booked.”
She added most of her clients had earlier experienced sakura tours in Japan and now want to enjoy cherry blossoms in bloom in other countries.
“South Korea is always a good alternative for for them after Japan, thanks to K-pop and Korea Tourism Organization’s (savvy) branding of the country in Indonesia,” Putu said.
In 2018, TX Travel recorded a 30 per cent spike in demand for sakura tours beyond Japan, compared with the seven per cent increase seen in 2017.
Anton Thedy, CEO at TX Travel said: “(We have seen) this high growth rate since we started selling China’s cherry blossom last year. To maximise this new market (interest) we created a new sakura package to Kunming.”
He added: “China is similar to Japan (in sakura offerings). Kunming is rising in popularity, as sakura in the City of Flowers is the most attractive and spectacular (in the country). But still, the demand to South Korea is higher than to China.”
Anton added: “The needs and style of travel of Indonesians today are changing. In the past people wanted to enjoy the atmosphere and (experience) the rituals or traditions in Japan during the cherry blossom season. Nowadays, people just want to take photos or selfies with cherry blossoms. The sakura moment is not that important anymore, as long as they can post (pictures) on Instagram and Facebook; they do not mind to see sakura in other areas, at a cheaper price.”
Meanwhile, Tommy Kurniawan, managing director at Happy Tour, attributes the new trend to the higher price of tour packages to Japan as well as the difficulty in getting tickets and hotel bookings during the popular sakura season. If sakura packages in Japan are worth 20 million rupiah (US$1,400), Happy Tour sells South Korea tour packages at half the price.
Tommy said: “This makes travellers think twice about vacationing to Japan during sakura season. In the end, many travellers are diverting their vacations to South Korea.”
Travel executives agreed that while travellers look for new destinations, sakura is still their main reason to travel. “Even though we combine with other attractions, they still want to spend time enjoying sakura. (Some) have even asked us to create tours to places where they can see cherry blossoms,” Anton said.
Seeing the demand, even Vietnam and Thailand have started to promote cherry blossom tours, according to the Indonesian outbound players.