Kay Allen, senior marketing specialist for JNTO's Los Angeles office // © 2018 Kay Allen
Feature image (above): Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of Japan's must-visit spots. // © 2018 Japan National Tourism Organization
Japan’s many cities, temples and light-dappled forests draw visitors in droves, as this destination in East Asia offers experiences travelers won’t find anywhere else.
How is 2018 looking for the country? We chatted with Kay Allen, senior marketing specialist for Japan National Tourism Organization’s (JNTO) Los Angeles office, to find out.
What were Japan’s biggest travel trends in 2017?
Last year was another record-breaking year for tourism in Japan — both overall and within the American market. We saw an almost 20 percent increase in overall tourism to Japan, with a 10 percent increase in tourism from the U.S. over 2016. Although Asia is the largest contributor overall, the U.S. remains the largest long-haul market, and it accounts for about 5 percent of international tourism to Japan.
What makes Japan a great destination for Western travelers?
Japan is such a multifaceted destination that there is something for all visitors, whether they are luxury travelers, foodies, history buffs, nature lovers, cruise passengers or sports enthusiasts. You name it, Japan has something for them.
With the current global climate, another aspect that is appealing to travelers is that Japan is an incredibly safe destination. It has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, making it perfect for families and solo female travelers.
What are some forecasts for the country in 2018?
We expect to see continued growth and interest in the destination as we move toward the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Leading up to the Olympics, there has been a big increase in promotional support from local tourism boards throughout Japan to make their destinations known to both new and repeat travelers by providing increased information and international traveler support.
This has really increased both travel agent and consumer awareness on new and exciting activities and destinations in Japan, which we feel will help more travelers venture off the beaten path in 2018.
Are there any major openings travelers should know about?
Tsukiji Fish Market is scheduled to be relocated to Toyosu by mid-October, though the outer markets will remain at its current location.
On the hotel front, Hyatt will be opening two new locations this year: Hyatt Centric Ginza Tokyo in early 2018, and Hyatt Regency Seragaki Island Okinawa in the summer.
Additionally, Marriott will open a new luxury island resort in the city of Miyakojima in Okinawa prefecture. There are many more hotel openings to look forward to in 2019 and 2020 as we near the summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Are you targeting a specific demographic this year?
We are continuing to focus on reaching more millennial travelers, as well as luxury and special-interest travelers. We are also working to appeal more to the Hispanic market as well. We intend to reach these target demographics through increased educational opportunities and engaging campaigns for both agents and consumers.
The number of millennial travelers to Japan is growing steadily, thanks to an increase in affordable direct flights and the destination’s growing popularity on social media. I think Japan’s pop culture, technology, food and unique blend of modern and traditional culture is particularly appealing to millennials who are more interested in experiential travel.
What destinations should be on a first-timer’s itinerary?
We recommend that first-timers see what we call the “Golden Route,” which includes Tokyo, Hakone/Mount Fuji, Kyoto/Osaka and Hiroshima. These destinations offer an introduction to modern and traditional Japanese culture as well as Japan’s beautiful natural scenery and famous hot springs. Additionally, they are seamlessly connected by bullet train, making it that much easier for those unfamiliar with the destination to get around.
Do you have any upcoming fam trips for travel agents?
We offer an annual fam to agents who have completed our Japan Travel Specialists program, which we have just updated to include our new Master program. This is a fantastic way to start or strengthen your destination knowledge and get added benefits, such as a free searchable agency listing on our website and eligibility to attend our Japan Showcases and fam trips.