Things you ought to know about Japan's tours & activities

Tours & activities is an interesting space. Other than attracting a lot of attention from investors, it also provides insights into the destinations favoured by travellers, what they like to do while in a destination and how they book these activities and experiences. In this series of columns, Graham Hills, chief commercial officer, BeMyGuest, one of Asia's fastest growing tours & activities platforms, shares insights gleaned from its data to shed light on its top selling destinations in Asia. First up, Japan, which is looking at robust inbound traffic growth in the run-up to the Summer Olympics -Tokyo 2020.

Japan, a relatively new destination for BeMyGuest, has shown tremendous growth since the beginning of the year with pax increasing at an average 50% month on month over the last four months.

Graham Hills: Growing demand for authentic local travel experiences outside major city hubs

Tokyo quickly rose to the sixth most popular destination based on pax, but ranks higher in terms of revenue driven by an average booking value 70% above average. Osaka, the other Japanese destination in our top 10, comes in eighth.

The growth can be attributed to the significant increase in the number of products on offer in the BeMyGuest platform, as well as seasonality with March to May (late spring) and September to November (late autumn) as the best times to visit.

Japan is much more of a plan-in-advance destination with 91% of pax booking done two or more days in advance. Pax booking of more than 30 days in advance is 64% higher than average. This is a combination of price (generally we see longer lead times for higher priced products), a market situation with many suppliers not offering same-day bookings and some challenges around language.

Whilst Japan's theme parks are popular with families, Japan has a lower average pax per booking at 2.4 compared to 3.2 overall.

BeMyGuest's top 3s based on pax:

Top 3 attractions

Tokyo Disneyland
Universal Studios Japan (Osaka)
Sanrio Puroland (Tokyo)
Top 3 tours and activities

Osaka Amazing Pass
Hop On Hop Off Bus, Tokyo

One-day Mount Fuji and Hakone Tour

Top 3 inbound markets to Japan
South Korea

The signature Disney ship in Tokyo DisneySea, the theme park at the Tokyo Disney Resort (image credit: iStock)

Japan does large theme park attractions very well, and rank extremely high in terms of visitation in relation to their global counterparts.

TEA's (Themed Entertainment Association) latest report ranks Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea in third and fifth place respectively in the latest edition of 'World's 25 most popular amusement parks'. Also in the top five, Universal Studios Japan, home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, while Universal Studios Orlando and Hollywood came in 10 and 15 respectively.

Foreign tourism has become an economic stimulus and, according to Phocuswright, Japan is Asia Pacific's second largest tourist market.

As with many Asian countries, Japan is also challenged by the 'first tier city' issue. Tokyo, Kyoto and Mount Fuji are the tours and activity hotspots, however we know there's a growing demand for authentic local travel experiences outside major city hubs. The major challenges to broadening the scope of experiences according to some commentators is infrastructure.

Growing demand for authentic local travel experiences away from the cities. (Image credit: iStock)

Transport connections and accommodation availability appear to be a hindrance to spread, and many operators work on a cash only basis. Some suggest that the exit tax of ¥1,000 to be introduced in 2019 may be most effectively used to assist operators become less reliant on cash.

Recent discussions between the BeMyGuest team and operators in Japan has also revealed the country to be a high-tech, yet traditionally minded market. Reasons not to adopt new technology include employee loyalty and fear of being replaced, which is also true for some of the largest of attractions where ticket redemption remains manual and instant online booking unavailable.

The status quo may be forced to change in response to the shortage of a skilled workforce, whether there should be a limit capacity levels due to manpower and increased operational costs. Signals are evident, however, that newly launched travel industry businesses are more open to adopting new technology for the sake of efficiency, and also as a response to travellers preferences.

With over 28 million foreign tourists last year visiting Japan, the country's target of 40 million per year by 2020 seems promising. With increasing hype over Toyko 2020 and Japan's unique offerings the future looks bright for the country's growing tourism industry.

Note: Graham Hills and BeMyGuest will be speaking at WIT Japan & North Asia in Tokyo June 28-29.

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