Spotlight on Japan
30 March 2021
A sense of cautious optimism is beginning to return in Japan as the COVID vaccination program has commenced and the state of emergency, which was in place for the past few months, has been lifted. As I write, the cherry blossoms (sakura) are in full bloom in Tokyo!
However, there is still a way to go. Some business restrictions remain and the government continues to strongly encourage the wearing of masks and appropriate social-distancing. COVID remains a significant problem with over 1,000 new cases per day across Japan.
General consumer confidence has improved from its low point last year of 50 to 75* but is still negative, and the upswing has not yet flowed through to travel demand. (*Over 100 is positive).
With less than four months to go until the commencement of the Tokyo Olympic Games on 23 July, the government and Olympic organisers have decided to proceed without overseas spectators. Capacity limits on Olympic venues will be announced in April. The Torch Relay commenced on 25 March without spectators.
Japanese airlines and travel wholesalers and retailers have been hit hard by the pandemic, as have most around the world. Significant financial losses continue to be incurred. Most have announced major restructuring and staff reductions to occur over the next financial year and beyond. The government has had a Japanese version of ‘JobKeeper’ in place to support employment during these difficult times.
In the second half of 2020 a major domestic travel promotion campaign, “Go To Travel”, was launched by the government with a multi-billion dollar budget. “Go To Travel” was very popular with consumers and provided much-needed support for the travel industry including wholesalers and airlines, offering effective discounts of up to 50 per cent on domestic tour packages. The program was suspended when the recent state of emergency was declared, however may recommence in some form before the northern summer.
All the key stakeholders traditionally driving business to Australia remain committed to support our destination in the medium to longer term. We continue to have very positive discussions with senior leaders in the airline and wholesale spaces with the intention of being ready with new product when the international borders re-open in coming months.
JAL and ANA have been able to continue to operate to Australia, with reduced capacity, during the pandemic and will be able to rebuild capacity relatively quickly once demand returns. Qantas Group has also announced plans for its return to international operations on major routes including Japan, as soon as markets reopen.
Right through the pandemic, Tourism Australia has been focused on maintaining and increasing demand for travel to Australia, in collaboration with state and territory tourism organisations.
From successful consumer campaigns such as the “Australian Memories” photo competition in June last year, to daily social media posts on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels (see short movie), and partnership promotions with Genic and Tabippo travel media, we are talking directly to past and future travellers to reinforce Australia’s positioning as a destination which offers peace of mind and security, both of which are seen as very important by Japanese travellers for post COVID times. Great new content is being rolled out every month on our Japanese consumer site, Australia.jp, highlighting the unique wildlife, conscious travel, aquatic and coastal, food and drink and cultural tourism experiences right across Australia.
Our PR and media program continues with valuable exposure in newspapers, magazines, digital, radio and TV. While we can’t invite journalists to Australia right now, we continue our International Media Hosting Program by working with Japanese journalists based in Australia. For example, TBS Television reported live from Kangaroo Island on their popular morning show ‘Asa-chan’ only last week.
And of course, our strong engagement with wholesalers and airlines continues as we plan our relaunch and recovery campaigns, along with an innovative Aussie Specialist Program for frontline travel agent training. ASP has moved online during the pandemic with 42 webinars conducted and participation by 2300 agents, despite most working reduced hours or being stood down. In March, ASP featured live city tours of Sydney and Melbourne, with over 200 travel agents participating.
We continue to push forward with our other engagement activities - Japan Marketplace Online was held in February, bringing together 67 Japanese buyers and 120 Australian suppliers. A unique ‘hybrid’ version of ATE in June will maintain the ability for Australian and Japanese participants to hold critical one-to-one discussions, even though physical borders are still closed at this time.
The enthusiasm shown for destination Australia displayed by participants in the recent seminar ”New Normal Travel in Australia” by Tabippo media, where 30 young Japanese participants worked in teams to create their perfect Aussie holiday itinerary for post COVID-19 times, alongside a number of travel influencers and a tour planning specialist from HIS. They each paid JPY5,000 (AUD70) to participate in the four-part online event, showing their passion for Australia and how keen they are to travel to Australia really soon.
The Japanese travel industry has a strong history of engagement with and investment in Australia and will come back strongly once travel restrictions are eased. We encourage suppliers to keep in close touch with their RTOs, STOs and ITOs to ensure they are aware of your latest product and service developments and of course COVID-safe operational plans. ITOs will also need to discuss pricing with you in due course, to be ready for the relaunch.
With the development of digital marketing channels gaining pace in Japan, the more unique content you make available, the better the chance to promote your business. Check out initiatives like the National Experience Content Initiative for the latest opportunities.