Japan’s tourism sector evolves to stir domestic demand

Camping with Soul tents

Japan’s travel subsidy campaign is sparking innovation among local tourism players who are scurrying to adapt their strategies to tap the domestic market, even as the country battles a rise in Covid-19 cases.

Set to launch on July 22, the state-run 1.35 trillion yen (US$12.5 billion) Go To Travel campaign, will cover up to half of travellers’ domestic transport and accommodation costs if they book their overnight stays and day trips via travel agencies and affiliated booking sites.

Camping with Soul Japan, which provides glamping equipment to campsites, has started leasing tents to campsites as glamping gains popularity amid Covid-19

Hopes are high that the campaign can help the battered tourism industry recover some losses, but fears remain that Covid-19 concerns may limit the uptake of the programme or result in people opting for travel in a nearby prefecture.

Still, with so many prefectures vying for visitors, accommodation, tour and F&B providers are working together to introduce new approaches.

“We are no longer competing (with each other); we are collaborating,” said Lothar Pehl, COO, Kiroro Resort Holdings. For instance, Kiroro has teamed up with a local vineyard to offer guests a vineyard tour and wine tasting experience, with socially distanced bus transport included.

The Hokkaido resort is also diversifying its marketing to attract more families, small groups, business travellers and FITs. With the launch of the Go To Travel campaign, its priority is the “drive-in market”.

“The local Hokkaido customer is our first target, and the Japan customer is our second target,” said Pehl, adding that the campaign has created the need “to focus not on a segment, but on a market – an entire population”.

Kiroro Resort turning to collaboration, not competition, to tide through travel slump: Pehl

Camping with Soul Japan, which provides glamping equipment to campsites, has adapted to supply tents to campsites in scenic spots and national parks, which are tipped be a popular choice for travellers.

“Campsites are getting more inquiries about glamping because people want luxury accommodation that is away from the crowds, but campsites can’t afford to invest in our tents at the moment,” said Taisuke Yokota, managing director. “That’s why we are now leasing them, to generate some income now and sales later.”

Graham Davis, owner of Cottage Davis Yakushima, an accommodation, café and restaurant, believes his self-catering accommodation is increasingly appealing as visitors can socially distance, but is taking a “go-slow approach” to opening up to more visitors. He is instead focusing on the F&B aspect of the business, developing take-out and delivery services.

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