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, Nov 26, 2018, Issue No. 971

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+++ Pointless Inbound Marketing Campaigns

About two years ago I happened to be visiting a couple of clients in
Yurakucho and in between the two meetings had an hour to kill. I spied
a marketing technology trade show over in the Tokyo International
Forum, and decided to check out the latest methods for pushing your
stuff. To my surprise there was a small section on Inbound travel
marketing, and I visited a number of booths selling everything from
analytical software to touch displays – all in the hope that some
ambitious but clueless local government would buy for squintillions of
yen. Nothing interesting, and in this age of smart phones, it always
amazes me that NEC, Fujitsu, and others, seem to think there is an
unlimited market out there for public touch panels. It’s not even

Then I stumbled across a booth called SamuraiJapan, or something like
that, which was a travel site. Turns out it was being promoted as an
internal project by a group of young employees in a big Japanese
electronics company. While I tip my hat to their energy and
willingness to try something new in the stultifying conformity of a
big company, I have to say that the implementation was pretty
terrible. They were proud of its 5-language capability, the few
over-designed articles and videos, and a trade directory of sponsors –
none of whom were known or even of interest to foreign tourists
(over-priced and the same tired old products each year).

Nonetheless, I couldn’t help engaging the booth manager in a
conversation about what they were trying to do, and suggested that if
they were serious about reaching foreigners, maybe they should align
themselves with a company that already knew the ropes. Instead of,
“OK, let’s have a meeting and hear more,” I got a blank look like I
was suggesting we go out to an S&M joint for a quick session. I guess
I’m always the optimist – hoping that within all the spending and
public effort, there is also a purpose and a desire to succeed in a
given commercial space. But the fact is that often Japanese corporate
logic isn’t about growth and success, it’s about defense from
outsiders and a desire not to connect with another supplier if the
company thinks it can be done internally. Make-busy work is preferred
to share-it-around work.

By chance some weeks later I happened to connect with one of the
senior management of that same electronics company. I mentioned the
site and the team and asked why they wouldn’t be interested in
building something more potent with my firm, Japan Travel. He said
he’d check, and did, and came back saying that the group was being
given leeway to do something creative so as to “encourage them”. In
reality no one was expecting the project to come to anything. The
executive agreed that it was wasteful, but he had more important
things to take care of than worrying about stepping on some junior
manager’s toes about how to motivate staff.

[Continued below…]

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[…Article continues]

So, when I saw this last week a PRnewswire announcement that NTT
DoCoMo has launched a new inbound tourism site called “Wow! Japan” I
just rolled my eyes and wondered how many tens of millions of yen
DoCoMo was blowing on yet another “not-invented-here” boondoogle. No
doubt Dentsu is involved in this project, because the kick-off was
suitably spectacular (expensive) and will probably have the life time
of an adult June firefly (about 3-4 weeks, in case you are wondering).
The “event” being a series of Ninja images on the Shibuya big screens,
coupled with an Ninja actor giving tourists a fright out in front of
Shibuya Crossing. Very cheesy.

According to the press release from DoCoMo’s PR team, the purpose of
the site is to provide inbound tourists with “information about
Japanese culture, sightseeing, and travel experiences” – in other
words, exactly the same as one thousand other sites – most of which do
a better job of it. Instead, the real purpose of the site of course is
to showcase the very few services that DoCoMo provides which are
applicable to foreign tourists. In fact, I’m sure that whomever came
up with the campaign must have struggled with the concept once they
discovered that DoCoMo, like so many other big Japanese consumer
companies, actually doesn’t trust foreign tourists and makes it
difficult for them to access most of their domestic services. For
example, yes, you can buy an overpriced 7-day SIM, but you certainly
are not allowed to get a local phone or an unlimited low-cost local
data package.

In other words, the Wow! Japan campaign is either about a big
corporation flying the flag in response to a hot new trend, or someone
at DoCoMo really, really doesn’t understand the market.

DoCoMo is not the only Japanese corporation that has decided it needs
to do “something” with Inbound tourists, even if the company in
question can’t actually bring itself to do normal business with them.
JCB, the Japanese credit card company certainly comes to mind. JCB is
continually running promotions for tourists to come spend money with
their merchants. Of course you’d assume that JCB would want those
tourists to be using JCB cards, but not so. In fact, if you are not a
resident and a bonafide salary-person in Japan, you can pretty much
forget about even applying for a genuine Japanese JCB card.

Several years ago, in yet another fit of optimism, I managed to get a
meeting with a senior JCB manager, and suggested that we tie up
(“Japan Travel x JCB” sounded pretty good to me) to provide
international credit cards to tourists. I was quickly shut down when
told that JCB’s overseas network isn’t in fact JCB (other than the
brand) and instead intending customers were being sent to
correspondent local banks in those countries, for a license fee. For
this reason, there is no linkage between JCB cards in Japan and those
overseas, and loyal JCB cardholders abroad generally can’t access
member privileges here in Japan.

But things do change, and even lumbering dinosaurs eventually start to
understand the connection between manure and fresh grass. In JCB’s
case, they have just launched a campaign in Osaka whereby Thai card
members can get gift cards, discounts, and even cash-back offers, when
shopping at any one of the 60 stores that JCB has recruited for the
project. This is kind of a breakthrough for JCB, and suggests that
maybe they are thinking long-term about their own international
consumer network after all. I guess we’ll see in 10 or 20 years time.

For now, the Thai campaign is limited, and clearly it has little
impact on the business methods or commitments of the company. Likely
it was probably outsourced to an advertising company (Dentsu?), much
the same as the DoCoMo campaign. This makes you wonder what the point
is. If the campaign is temporary, if it only benefits a few thousand
tourists, all of whom had to already have de-linked JCB cards in order
to take advantage of the offers, then why do it? Corporate pride is
pretty much the only answer we can think of.

And corporate pride is not something to lightly discount here in
Japan. It’s the first layer of the nationalism onion and as we
frequently see in the news, corporations will go to extraordinary
lengths to protect their pride and their name. Olympus, Mitsubishi,
Nissan, and many others. But it does surprise me that corporate pride
doesn’t factor in the actual decisions being made about what to market
to consumers. My guess is that marketing to foreign tourists is still
such a minor activity, it’s little more than a miscellaneous check box
on a marketing team member’s KPI list, and not worthy of oversight.
That’s surprising, considering more than 30m foreigners are freely
spending all day every day while traveling here in Japan.

…The information janitors/


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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd@japaninc.com)

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