Understanding the modern Japanese traveller

There are so many moving parts in Asia Pacific’s travel market that even the savviest of tour and activity operators in the region can hardly keep up. Each time a brand thinks it has an ace strategy dialed in for travellers from a specific country, the dynamics change. 

The challenge of fluidity is compounded by the sweeping effects of web and mobile. At the end of the day, operators need to always stay current with trends as they relate to consumer behaviour and preferences. Let’s take a moment to look at the modern Japanese traveller.   

Research shows that Japanese millennials increasingly travel overseas to find work-life balance.

In October 2018 alone, JTB Tourism Research & Consulting Company estimated that the number of Japanese overseas travellers was about 1.6 million, which was a staggering 12.8 percent increase from the same month the year before. 

Japan’s outbound tourism trend is now seeing a boost from young travellers instead of elderly ones. In short, the company found that Japanese millennials are starting to embrace overseas travel due to ‘more free time on a life stage’ than before (e.g. finding work-life balance). On the other hand, the nation’s baby boomer generation is starting to travel overseas less due to decreased physical ability and declining health (e.g. the natural effects of ageing).  

The company also conducted a survey on the correlation between lifestyle changes and the spread of new tech-based services. The goal was to better understand how digitalisation has changed Japanese travellers’ behaviours and values. It targeted 18- to 79-year-olds living in or around Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.

The results show that the biggest change from digitalisation came from ‘information search’ when travelling (40.5 percent change). In other words, the number of Japanese travellers using hard copy guidebooks has dropped significantly compared to the survey results less than five years ago. Bookings made via smartphone saw a 33.2 percent increase, while booking online ‘when doing something else’ (such as tours and activities) went up by 13.9 percent. Travel purchases made via brick-and-mortar shops and telephone decreased.  

A recent Nippon report says young people are bypassing traditional travel agents and making foreign travel arrangements on their own. By and large, they are using OTAs like Expedia to purchase flights on low cost carriers.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza is considered as one of the most Instagrammable places in Seoul, a destination repeatedly visited by Japanese travellers.

Instagram has become an interesting variable. According to Nippon, when a young Japanese person decides to take a trip overseas and zeroes in on a destination, they will use a hashtag to search for photos uploaded to Instagram and search for ‘insta-bae’ (Instagram-worthy) spots. They browse online for reviews and find out how to get to that particular place. In the past, Japanese travellers wanted to see the places mentioned in guidebooks. Today, travel has turned into a mission to visit ‘photogenic’ locations featured on Instagram. The aim is to upload photos of what they have seen to impress their followers.   

Another observable trend is taking place in which young Japanese travellers are returning to the same destinations repeatedly. The report cites Korea as a good example of this, referencing the rise of K-Pop music and the Korean drama TV genre as likely catalysts that keep female college students from Japan coming back. They want to immerse themselves in the culture of their favourite shows and artists. 

Young people from Japan are increasingly travelling alone or without friends. In some cases, it’s because coordinating time off of work for everyone in a group poses logistical challenges. Cost is also still a factor to consider for young people. 

Young Japanese people prefer travelling alone for a more hassle-free trip and to meet new friends.

However, some young people are travelling alone because they prefer their trip to be hassle-free. Going abroad by oneself means that the traveller does not have to worry about the needs of companions. They also get to avoid those all-too-common disagreements that friends tend to have on a journey. 

Some Japanese travellers are doing it because they want to meet new people and form spontaneous groups. This dynamic lends itself to a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ authenticity that would not occur with an existing circle of friends from back home.   

A final thing tour and activities operators should consider when aiming experiences at modern Japanese travellers is that ‘study abroad’ trips are becoming more ubiquitous. Over the past decade, many local universities have made these trips a compulsory part of the college curriculum. 

In short, it means that young Japanese people are returning for holiday to the country they studied in. Friends they made overseas during their academic term abroad serve as a strong motivator for future travel.  

Because this valuable group of travellers is greatly different from the previous generation, tour and activities operators may need help reaching them on web and mobile. Luckily, there are several top-tier tech solutions providers in the region that specialise in helping brands do exactly that.   

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