The Opportunity for Cultural Tourism in Japan
Why European Travellers want to Visit Japan
Ask affluent travellers where they most want to visit and Japan is always in their top three destinations. These are discerning, high-income people who could choose anywhere in the world – why Japan?
Many sought-after destinations offer wonderful weather or scenery; Japan’s appeal is more complex. It’s still the case that the majority of leisure travellers are visiting for the first time. Much of the appeal lies as much in the fact that it’s a country that many people in Europe know so little about that.
In many ways it’s surprising that cultural tourism – with a focus on history, art and food is under-sold in Europe. Mature, educated travellers want to learn about the destinations they visit – not lay on a beach or cocoon themselves away. Japan, maybe more than any other destination, provides fantastic opportunities to attract this market.
Chirimen Silk Kimono Weaving @ Kyoto by the Sea
Research undertaken by the UNWTO has indicated that cultural tourists spend 38% more per day and stay 22% longer than other tourists. They tend to be well educated, have above average incomes and to be frequent travellers.
Cultural tourists tend to be older (and often retired), although a growing interest in ‘authentic travel experiences’ amongst all groups means that culture is growing in appeal amongst younger travellers. This will be concentrated amongst pre-family couples although some destinations, including Japan, will attract affluent families with older teenage children.
Asides from the obvious financial advantages of hosting tourists interested in arts and culture, attracting this market also benefits and supports established communities. Go back a decade and many destinations still had a strategy of encouraging development by premium hotel groups to attract luxury travellers. This often had a detrimental effect on existing accommodation providers and restaurants. Thankfully, today, more affluent travellers are seeking accommodation, food and experiences that support local communities.
A typical specialist cultural tour operator in Europe might offer over 20 cultural tours to Italy compared to just one or two to Japan. Even then, specialist operators often tend to concentrate on the ‘Golden Route’ and simply add cultural experiences. This is at odds with the fact that many of these experienced travellers actively seek itineraries that are off the beaten track.
There is undoubtedly an opportunity to help tour operators stand out from the crowd and to offer discerning travellers a more enjoyable, memorable experience of a much anticipated visit to Japan.