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The strategies being implemented during the Strategic Period to Expand Inbound Tourism – 2003-2007 – include:

Market identification: The first step was to undertake market research to determine the most appropriate target markets and the public relations and marketing approaches needed to effectively reach them. It was felt that Japan needed to better understand trends in order to determine how to compete against long-established competition. Research helped identify appropriate destination images of Japan as well as the tourism products needed to attract the respective target markets.

Image and product development: To establish Japan’s new image and the development of needs-specific tourism products, a fundamental question was posed: Why isn’t Japan a first choice destination among foreign travellers? Research facilitated the development of promotional themes and images designed to revolutionise the stereotyped images. This was followed by the planning and development of tours in support of such themes and images, as well as creating tour products geared to specific and diverse tourist needs.

Overseas PR and market promotion: Intensive public relations activities are being rolled out to supply positive information to potential overseas visitors via every possible media. These include the new images of Japan, an array of inviting tourism attractions and resources and useful travel information. To convert interest into booking, Internet and other media are being used to provide easy purchase of tour products through travel agents. Emphasis is on increasing the number of repeat visitors and promoting international conventions and events and special interest group tours. An intensive campaign is being carried out focusing on the 2005 EXPO of Global Harmony to take place in Aichi.

Visa simplification: Simplification of visa requirements and expedited visa issuance procedures are recognised as critical. This policy is being pushed forward while paying due consideration to the maintenance of public peace and order.

International coalitions: Close partnerships with foreign governments are being forged to stimulate tourism exchanges. Specially targeted countries are Korea (ROK), China (PRC) and the United States. Talks are also being held with PATA, the World Tourism Organization (WTO), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and other relevant organisations.

The Japanese government is also supporting international exchange programmes carried out by local government bodies and private-sector groups.

‘Yokoso’ – Welcoming strategies: The MLIT acknowledges that international visitor reception systems and facilities are still relatively poor. It is noted, for example, that a lot of signage is in Japanese only, and currency exchange is often a time-consuming and troublesome process. In some provincial areas, immigration control, customs and quarantine systems are still incomplete. And the MLIT also notes that some Japanese may appear unfriendly (in most cases simply because they lack the ability to communicate in a foreign language or are shy in dealing with foreigners). Efforts are underway to make foreign visitors warmly and naturally accepted. These seek to nurture the attitude that, though the foreign visitor may differ somewhat in appearance, language and custom, he or she is really not much different from the Japanese and associating with them will eventually become an everyday matter and become a positive element within the local Japanese lifestyle.

Information supply: This strategy ensures that travellers and tour groups obtain all the information they need for their entire itinerary before departure. It includes specific information, such as about sightseeing, transportation and accommodations. Initially provided in English, the information will be later expanded to other languages.

Transportation access: To move visitors to their intended tourist sites smoothly and comfortably, including through Japan’s international gateways, it is considered imperative that Japan’s international air and seaports be upgraded. The MLIT has realised that moving around a foreign country as an individual or even in a group is often not without a certain level of stress. It can certainly be mentally painful if one happens to get lost or has taken a wrong train or bus. Japanese public transportation companies are being encouraged to improve the serviceability of domestic transportation to allow smoother and more efficient transfer for international visitors.

Developing tourism destinations: Efforts are being made to create tourism destinations that will appeal to prospective foreign visitors and allow them to appreciate the true Japan. This will mean creatively presenting traditional, cultural and historic heritage, as well as areas of special interest, such as sports or shopping. A review of locally available tourism resources was carried out. Rather than viewing such resources as isolated tourist spots, the strategy advised looking upon them as an entire complex, including local lifestyles and hands-on personal experiences in numerous activities, friendly interchange with local people, and even landscapes that can be enjoyed through a bus or train window. It suggested the creation of international tourism theme areas in cooperation with local government bodies and backed by efficient operational systems and creative personnel competent enough to plan and lead comprehensive community development programmes. The MLIT said

it would encourage competition among tourist areas to motivate them to improve their respective attractions even further.

Tourism industry revitalisation: Tourism-related entrepreneurs have been reminded that their industry’s primary mission is to satisfactorily service both foreign and domestic visitors. It was admitted that Japan lacked good quality tourism-related facilities to provide customers with acceptable levels of service. To address this, the MLIT said managers and entrepreneurs of travel agencies, accommodations, restaurants and other tourism-related entities will be encouraged to ratchet up their consciousness in providing these services. The ministry said it will help eager entrepreneurs review their services from an international perspective and help them satisfy a range of service-oriented needs.

Incubation: As visitors to Japan buy more local goods and services, the MLIT noted that some companies’ ability to supply these required goods and services may fall short of demand, in both quantity and quality. Hence, support will be extended to entrepreneurs in such business sectors to develop new ventures.

Coalition development: This critical element of the plan recognises the important role of small businesses and the need to support them. The MLIT said: For the well-balanced prosperity of the tourism industry as a whole, it is vital to develop harmonious coalitions between companies or between related industries as they forge their respective links to the tourism industry. As many new small companies attempt to enter the field without sufficient expertise, they will need to learn from existing success stories or collaborate with more experienced companies. This makes it critical to support and strengthen coalitions among a wide range of companies together with those that are tourism-related, the MLIT said.

Government- and private-sector collaboration: An inter-ministerial collaborative process has been set up with the MLIT as the core. Local government bodies, tourism-related organisations and members of the private sector have to match the effort. An umbrella executive group is being mooted to promote the strategy and coordinate its implementation. The executive grouping will be flexible and open-minded in its strategic endeavours, inviting industries, heretofore regarded as having had little apparent interest in the arena of travel and tourism, to take part in the strategy.

Implementation: The Inbound Tourism Initiative will be implemented carefully and methodically. All participants, including the central government ministries, local government bodies, private-sector entities and others are required to secure the organisation and finances necessary to implement measures in their own respective capacities. Should several entities jointly pursue one specific measure, after setting up the organisation structure and securing funding, an information campaign should commence to convince the general public as to the importance and expected positive effects of the promotional measures contained in this tourism initiative.

Assessment and review: As the strategies roll out, inbound tourism trends will be monitored to assess and review them and maximise their cost-effectiveness. The industry will also conduct market surveys, attempt to compile reliable statistics and monitor international tourism market trends overseas. The strategies can be reviewed and assessed based on this feedback and new follow-up measures (if required) can then be adopted.