Japan advises bigger marketing efforts by U.S.
By Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writer
The U.S. government needs to significantly boost its marketing efforts to lure Japanese visitors amid increasingly aggressive competition for tourism dollars from a growing number of other countries, according to Japanese tourism leaders.
Japanese travel to the United States last year was off 19 percent, much of the loss accrued in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce Doug Baker. And American travel to Japan also is declining. Spending by U.S. residents in Japan last year fell to $3.4 billion from $9 billion the year earlier.
Baker led a meeting yesterday of 55 U.S. and Japanese visitor officials and industry leaders at Ko Olina. It was the first meeting since the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding in April to take steps aimed at recovering from last year's 20 percent declines in visitors to both countries.
Japanese officials said yesterday that other governments have invested heavily in attracting Japanese visitors, and they urged U.S. officials to strongly consider making such investments.
"The Chinese government has been putting so much effort to promote tourism in the country the past several years, which is coming fruitful," said Satoru Kanazawa, director-general of the tourism department, policy bureau of the Japan Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
China this year overtook Hawai'i as the fourth most popular destination for Japanese going abroad on summer vacation, according to a survey by JTB Corp., Japan's largest travel agency, which concluded that price was a main reason for the change.
Hawai'i fell to fifth on the list behind South Korea, Europe, the U.S. Mainland and China.
"China is pushing very hard," said Koji Shinmachi, chairman of the Japan Association of Travel Agents. "America is a little behind in pushing the market in Japan. Hawai'i spent a lot of money after the attack ... They have done a good job. But as far as the Mainland is concerned, I don't think much promotion has been done."
In the weeks after Sept. 11, Hawai'i approved up to $20 million of state and private money for emergency tourism marketing, and Gov. Ben Cayetano led tourism officials to Japan to personally reassure tourists. The Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau also allocated $7 million for advertising in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya for a six-month emergency marketing plan.
Hawai'i received approximately 38 percent of all Japanese foreign travelers last year, Baker said. Japanese tourism to the islands still is off as much as 10 percent to 20 percent, but that's up significantly from the months immediately following Sept. 11, when Japanese arrivals were down 50 percent or more.
Travel to the Mainland from Japan has recovered more slowly than travel to Hawai'i, with Japanese travel to the United States down 19 percent.
"We asked Mr. Baker, please take it very seriously the reason why America is behind," Shinmachi said. "I really wish that the American government would be more involved in marketing."
Much of the group's discussion on travel to the United States centered on safety and security issues, Baker said yesterday. "We need to do a better job from the U.S. perspective on improving the safety and security that we do have," he said.
Kanazawa said Japanese tourists require "a very high level of security," which could also be a reason the United States has lost some competitive edge against other destinations.
"Globally, China was considered to be the more controlled, safe, in a sense, destination," Kanazawa said.
Approximately 4.4 million Japanese visitors came to the United States in 2001, and Baker said the group aims for a 25 percent increase in that figure over the next five years. The initiative is intended to be led and paid for by industry leaders, and officials said there is no estimate for how much investment their plans would require.
Any increased marketing will also help the Islands.
"We'll all benefit from that the deeper relationship between the U.S. and Hawai'i," said Tony Vericella, president and chief executive of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, which markets the Islands.
Increasing the number of Americans visiting Japan also was part of the discussion. Baker said part of the plan to increase travel to Japan is to encourage U.S. business travelers to spend an extra day or two there for tourist activities.
In 28 of the past 30 years, Baker said, the United States has received more overseas visitors from Japan than from any other country.
Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau president George Kirkland, co-chairman of one of the working group committees, noted that $10 billion of the $27 billion lost in the travel and tourism industries since Sept. 11 came from international markets, and said the initiative with Japan is to set a model that could lead to plans for other destinations.
A bilateral meeting of the U.S. and Japanese leaders is planned for later this year in Japan.
Reach Kelly Yamanouchi at 535-2470, or at email@example.com.