Japan Travel

* * * * * * * * TERRIE’S (TOURISM) TAKE – BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Oct 18, 2015, Issue No. 824

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+++ Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Applied to Tourist Types

Earlier this week I traveled to Kochi city in Kochi Prefecture (Shikoku), to participate in a seminar designed to help Kochi Prefectural tourism-related officials understand what might bring more foreign travelers there. Kochi, like many other somewhat remote locations in Japan, is being substantially bypassed by the hordes of foreign tourists swamping hotels and other facilities of larger cities and smaller ones lucky enough to own famous landmarks.

Other cities/prefectures which fall into the same category as Kochi would be Miyazaki, Tottori, Akita, and Aomori. They all suffer from the same basic disadvantages, being small population, lack of strongly identifiable tourist attractions (either historical or purpose-made), and they are essentially rest-stops on the way to somewhere more desirable and popular. And yet, Kochi is not so different to Matsuyama city just 120km to the west, so what makes it so much less successful at attracting foreign tourists?

In preparing my presentation for the Kochi tourism team, I decided to focus on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and used this construct to show where Kochi should be focusing to find its visitors, and furthermore, what messaging to use to pull them in. For those of you who studied Maslow at high school or university, you’ll know that according to Maslow there are classically 5 levels of human psychological needs, each of which needs to be satisfied before people move up to the next level. You can remind yourself what the hierarchy looks like, here:


I personally don’t subscribe the up-down nature of the hierarchy, in that hungry or physically threatened people can still think and take action for someone they love or esteem, but I do believe in the basic model of layers of behavior and personally use this insight in my everyday life — from probing and intuitively knowing what to say to a new client, through to negotiating with my teenage daughters about spending money… :-)

[Continued below…]

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Within the context of tourism, I suggested to the Kochi team that Maslow would put the Low-cost Carrier (LCC) customers such as backpackers at the bottom of the hierarchy, because they are largely motivated by physiological factors (i.e., money and access limitations), and one thing I quickly found traveling to Kochi is that it is NOT cheap to get there. No LCCs, no direct rail link, and no Willer bus means that ANA and JAL can hold Kochi-bound travelers hostage, and they sure do. JPY32,000 return is about the cheapest air connection.

Next level up, in Maslow’s “safety” category, would be first-timer Japan visitors, who are looking for “guaranteed” experiences. Going to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto is definitely a safe bet, and I wouldn’t try to deter these folks from having that experience. At very least, this may give them an appetite to return and experience more, which would bring them into the “love/belonging” category — i.e., they become repeaters. Kochi is a great place to go see, but it can’t compare with the size of Tokyo, energy of Osaka, and atmosphere of Kyoto, so I recommended Kochi drop first-timers as a target.

So that brings us to Maslow’s “love/belonging” category. I’m sure that most readers know by now that it is not unusual for visitors from HK, Taiwan, Singapore, and Thailand, to visit Japan 3-6 times a year. Indeed, 86% of all inbound travelers from HK have been to Japan at least once, and it is these people who are looking to experience variety or a special place that makes them feel comfortable. Perhaps surprisingly, not all these Repeaters are FIT (Free Independent Travelers), in that they often prefer to travel in groups and to request package tours from their travel agents. But regardless of who they travel with, once they find somewhere they can call their own, they like to keep going back there. Fukuoka is a good example, and recently foreigner ownership of apartments has risen significantly. So certainly I suggested to Kochi that they should be looking at Repeaters as a target group.

Above Repeaters, the next category of Maslow’s hierarchy are “esteem” related travelers. These are people who are well informed and who are motivated to travel to places that they actually KNOW are unique or are of high value personally. These people are frequently influencers in their communities and they know their opinion counts. So the “esteem” works in both directions – both on the original travelers looking to maintain their connoisseur reputations and on their fans who follow later.

On the internet the influencers are likely to be power bloggers highly familiar with Japan, while on other media they are probably TV personalities, actors, sports stars, and well-known business figures. When you give these powerful influencers an experience they can’t forget, whether a beautiful scene, single delicious dish, or a unique activity, they pass it to their network of tens of thousands and thus create curiosity, desire, and of course inbound traffic. The question of course just what would that experience need to be?

At the top of Maslow’s hierarchy is a group of people I never really understood, at least not in the classic sense. The general explanation is that “self-actualized” people act purely outside of self, that is, they are selfless and altruistic — so it’s not really a concept that works in a commercial context and I usually ignore this category. However, within the travel world, one could possibly apply the term to insanely rich people who travel simply for the pleasure of traveling, not because of some other externally-induced need. I used to think that egalitarian Japan wouldn’t draw many of the super-rich. However, in recent months as I have discovered more about the luxury travel sector, it turns out that Japan is fast becoming popular as an exotic destination where any whim can be satisfied. More about this sector in a later post.

So for Kochi, my recommendation was to focus on repeaters and esteem-driven opinion leaders and their fans, which means that the prefecture needs to create something more than what it is offering currently. A quick visit to their website shows the main attractions are:
* The Kochi castle, yes undeniably beautiful, but still it’s just one of 12 original castles in Japan and others are more convenient to get to.
* The 15 of the 88 Henro pilgrimage temples in Shikoku that it hosts, which isn’t even a quarter of the total and to travel the trail you need to be ready for two months of sweat, bad weather, and isolation.
* The week-long Yosakoi street dancing festival, which again is excellent and draws innovative dancing teams in from all over Japan, but which causes the city to become so packed that simply being there can get uncomfortable.

Yeah, so Kochi has at least three good things, but none of them are particularly outstanding drawing cards for foreigners.

So it’s clear to me that Kochi and destinations like it need to “manufacture” a drawing card, and develop it to the extent that it becomes world famous. This is not so easy to do, because not only does it require clear vision and leadership, but also the guts to plunk down a lot of money for something that isn’t proven and which is going to have to satisfy the needs of foreign visitors not just Japanese ones. For example, installing a new water park or huge Ferris wheel is not going to pull thousands of visitors from HK or Singapore, where they already have world-class attractions, and where there is more concrete and steel than they can shake a stick at. Rather, the drawing card needs to focus on those things our Asian neighbors don’t have, such as untouched nature (yes, Kochi still has some) and genuine food, products, and services.

In the end, my personal suggestion to the Kochi team was that they should turn turn Kochi Prefecture into a regional center for school and university groups looking for nature-related experiences. They do do this to a small degree already, with well-designed kayaking tours, plenty of boating and diving, and hiking trails everywhere. But none of these things are much good to foreigners if they don’t know about them, so documenting and marketing online are obvious areas for improvement. Further, rather than just providing random experiences as they do now, these activities need to be packaged and become a focus for the local tourism industry, so that visitors get an intense and uniform experience that will delight them — much like a theme park but without the ticket gates. This effort will need centralized management and coordination, especially if the target is to bring in thousands of new foreign visitors a year.

Before going to Kochi, I’d heard that depopulation was causing townships across the prefecture to shut down schools and I was told about one particular school up the Shimanto river that had been converted into a lodging facility, but not many people were using it yet. So I suggested turning it and other schools into boarding centers for 4-week summer break “nature adventure” experiences for foreign kids and their families. Throw in English-speaking tutors, and you’d have a regional, cheaper, and much safer alternative for Chinese kids (for example) instead of sending them to summer school in the USA or Europe. Actually, this kind of facility would be hugely appealing to Japanese families as well.

You can get the picture. If Kochi applied itself to targeted marketing, proper packaging, and appropriate pricing, it could attract 100-150 kids a time flying in on charter flights from Shanghai, HK, and Singapore. Charters would mean that there would be few significant costs unless there was real demand. Further, these kinds of sales wouldn’t be made individually, but rather they would happen on a trust-and-repeat basis with education authorities in each target country. So while the kids themselves may not be repeaters, certainly their schools would be.

Then, as those kids graduated and started to travel independently, I’d like to think that more than a few of them would want to revisit the fields of their youthful Kochi summer stays, bringing friends and family with them to relive the experience. You can already see this development of long-lasting emotional ties and affection for certain parts of Japan within some sectors of repeat travelers, such as Taiwanese older group travelers, who particularly seem to like western Japan, and by Korean repeaters who seem to like Kyushu and Hokkaido.

…The information janitors/


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