executive impact

Bringing Britain to life for Japanese visitors

By Chris Betros

For many Japanese, the image of Britain used to be a Dickens-like image of fog, gray, great castles, Beatrix Potter and rose gardens. But that’s changed in recent times, thanks to a more aggressive marketing campaign by VisitBritain, the national tourism agency responsible for inspiring people from all over the world to explore Britain.

VisitBritain, which works out of the British Embassy in Tokyo, has had a presence in Japan since 1965. The boom period for Japanese tourists to visit Britain was in the late 1990s when about 600,000 Japanese would head to the UK a year. Now it averages about 232,000 per year.

To strengthen relations between the two countries in the tourism sector, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) and VisitBritain recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in Tokyo, committing both countries to the mutual exchange of experience and information, with specific reference to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Heading the VisitBritain operations in Japan is Ashley Harvey. Prior to joining VisitBritain in 2012, Harvey worked in advertising and sales in Singapore, Hong Kong and London, focusing on hotels and tourism.

Japan Today catches up with Harvey to hear more about VisitBritain.

How would you describe the image of Britain in Japan?

Well, it’s changed over the years. We are still suffering a perception gap. There is still almost a Dickens-like image of what Britain is -- fog, gray, great castles, Beatrix Potter, rose gardens and so on. But I think more Japanese are starting to see Britain in a more modern light.

We conducted an online survey last summer and the top five things that Japanese people thought of as being British-only experiences were Buckingham Palace, Edinburgh Castle, the Lake District, afternoon tea and to see the London skyline from the Shard or the London Eye. Kate and William portray a strong image as well.

Does VisitBritain tweak its campaign for different countries?

Worldwide, the government has the “Britain is GREAT” campaign. VisitBritain uses seven pillars – shopping, culture, countryside, heritage, food, sport, music. We have offices in 22 countries and basically work leveraging these seven pillars. In Japan, the sport theme is less popular, while the countryside with rose gardens, for example, is very useful for us. But in Brazil, London is seen as a shopping capital, so they emphasis shopping experiences. We focus on countryside, culture and heritage which tend to reflect the type of travellers coming from Japan -- they are more likely to be active seniors.

How many Japanese tourists visit Britain each year?

The boom period was in the late 1990s when we had 600,000 Japanese a year. Now it averages about 232,000 per year.

How do you conduct your marketing campaign?

A bit like Prime Minister Abe, I have three arrows to use. One is to target consumers online through Facebook, Twitter, blogs and monthly e-newsletters. The second arrow is doing PR in traditional print and TV media. We sometimes take journalists to Britain. The third arrow is dealing directly with the travel trade. About 80% of travellers to the UK from Japan book through the travel trade. B2B work is very important for us.

Where do most Japanese visit when they come to Britain?

The Golden Route remains London, Cotswolds, Lake District and Edinburgh, especially in summer. That’s one of the things we are speaking with the travel agents about. If you’re targeting active seniors who don’t have the pressure to be back at work within a week, it is less necessary to focus so much on the summer. Japanese travellers go to Britain for our history, culture and countryside and much of our tourism product and experiences are geared towards being year-round and not weather dependent.

What challenges do you face?

One is the greater array of destination options now on offer for the Japanese traveller. Another factor is the weaker yen against the sterling has made it relatively more expensive to travel to Britain. The entry into Japan of low-cost carriers has made short-haul and intra-Asia flights much cheaper. A third challenge is trying to keep the product fresh. The Japanese tourism market is mature and they have been doing that Golden Route for many years.

The challenge is how do we bring the tourism experience to life here in Japan, and give Japanese a taste which makes them want to go and see the real thing. The traditional way is to bring over suppliers, restaurants, hoteliers, and so on to Japan and introduce them to 100 travel trade representatives and see what happens. What we are thinking about doing in the future is to curate that experience a bit more. We’ll have them come over to Japan and create an experience for the travel trade to understand and think better how they can then sell to the Japanese consumers.

Have travel agents’ perspective changed much?

We have taken quite a few groups on familiarization trips over the last couple of years and are surprised at their pre-conceived notions. The positive thing is that they come away mind-blown about how innovative and high-quality the British tourism product is. Once they visit, they become British advocates for us; presenting to their peer groups what they learned and how their perceptions changed. So it’s very positive.

What is a typical day for you?

I am at the embassy most of the morning, dealing with emails from London. I do media interviews, attend travel trade meetings and cultivate partnerships with iconic British brands outside the travel trade, to help bring Britain to life.

© Japan Today

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The boom period was in the late 1990s when we had 600,000 Japanese a year.

Just about every woman I know over a certain age has been to the Lake District. Something about a rabbit.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Stealing an old Russian joke "Britain is the world's largest museum"...the complete absence of shinkansen does not help and it's the same old pitch every time, Stonehenge, not Avebury (which is more impressive) London, not Bristol or Bath which are a lot more walkable...not promoting London walks like the ones around the City of London area...London hotels are amazingly poor value for money, most of them need steam-cleaning.

For an example of poor promotion, there's a part of a Roman bathhouse under one London university, there's no sign-post pointing to the viewing window, the window is very low and not cleaned very often...anywhere else in the world it would be promoted heavily, but not in the UK...

2 ( +6 / -4 )

They get less tourists than Hawaii? This bloke needs to up his game.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I think the real portrayal of the UK should be something like this, broken and sham marriages, unruly children, Chavy parents, spineless government, over run with immigrants, crap rail service, over burdened NHS, ridiculous work contracts (zero hours) local authorities obsessed with petty parking tickets and trivial rules. full jails, over taxed, drug ridden, violent, alcoholic nation, BUT we have the BBC that flagship the best TV documentaries and period dramas in the WORLD !!! OK iam ready for the thumds down brigade

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@cracaphat. Take her to the numerous, and free, museums. If you want to waste a lot of money on a load of nonsense there is a Harry Potter studio tour in Watford.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

and not weather dependent


0 ( +2 / -2 )

Well said Elizabeth and most of those free museums offer great (also free) activities for children of all ages. Or, how about a visit to see Father Christmas in one of the department stores? Or just a visit to Oxford Street/Regent street on bus to see the lights. How about a walk through Hyde Park/kensington gardens. Diana memorial playground, to South Kensington where there are three museums: Victoria and Albert, Natural History and Science. If you must do Harry Potter, queue up at 'Platform 9 and three quarters' at Kings Cross station to have your photo taken, buy an expensive souvenir and then head for nearby Coram's Field's playground (free) your daughter can see real animals in the petting zoo and might even get to meet and play with some real English children.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

And of course Britain extends to the Outer Hebrides and Shetland. Britain is more than just the south of England... take a ghost walk in York for example... great fun wandering around a spooky ancient city centre. Edinburgh ghost walks take you UNDER the city. Wales and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland have just as much to offer... and have beautiful scenery.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"Going there in December with my daughter but got no Disney or Uni Stu to go to. How can I entertain her beyond fam?"

Take her to see The Lion King at the theatre. Or Wicked if she is a teenager.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

they have spooky walks around and underground London too. it's the right time of the year as well XD

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As some have said, the FREE and INTERESTING museums. The only reason I haven't been to more museums (and cinemas) in Japan is that they cost an arm and a leg. Certainly a lot less concrete monstrosities in UK. A few years back I visited Bath again and also Castle Coombe (a shame buses weren't that frequent).

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Certainly lots to enjoy in the UK, but as a Brit living here I'm a bit uncomfortable with the 'Britain is Great' slogan. I thought reserve and modesty were supposed to be part of our self image?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )


For most of Japanese, eating the specialties of the visiting places is half of the joy of traveling. Britain has developed such a bad reputation of poor food culture among Japanese. Who would go for sandwiches and fish and chips when full course French dinner or banquet of Mediterranean seafood is offered in nearby countries?

I hope I am wrong with my understanding of British food culture.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

As a Brit i have no time for the place anymore.. It is not all a dump but enough of it is and a lot of the people are not happy with their lot. If you can travel everywhere first class and avoid the chavs you may be ok though.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

@CH3CHO You're a bit behind the times when it comes to UK cuisine. Things have changed a lot. Besides, in my experience all the Japanese visitors want to try fish and chips, roast dinners, puddings etc.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I hope I am wrong with my understanding of British food culture.

You forgot beans on toast, everything else about right.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

For most of Japanese, eating the specialties of the visiting places is half of the joy of traveling.

If the place they're visiting is in Japan, yes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


To be fair, if they're visiting Britain, they're not going to get a lot of joy from the food....

Unless they stick to Indian, Chinese, Italian and, well... Japanese : (

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@lucabrasi Well then, they should go for other reasons. 1000 years worth of written history in that place and some of the finest collections from other countries as well. The British Museum is the 2nd most visited museum in the world and arguably at least to be seen in addition to the Louvre.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

A great country to visit. Almost every Japanese person I've met who has visited the country came back with a good impression. Free museums, beautiful architecture, a great selection of cuisines from around the world, great pubs, great football games and other major sporting events, lovely countryside ( particularly the Scottish Highlands ) and long summer days. I met one who complained of the lack of Japanese restaurants and the not delicious rice ( not Japanese rice ) but those kind of people should really stay at home anyway. You do meet the type of traveller who goes abroad to confirm prejudices or to convince themselves of the superiority of their own cultures. You meet many such posters on this site.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I hope I am wrong with my understanding of British food culture.

Yes. You are.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

CH3CHO is right about the Japanese and that there is poor marketing of Brit food. There is some good, and unique (an important requirement for the Japanese ) stuff there but the Japanese, and perhaps many Brits, Luca. My Japanese wife and I recommend: steak chicken but not kidney pies, gravy, apple crumble, scones, Cornish pasties (the real ones in Cornwall, with thick crusts that the tin minerswould throw away to avoid the contamination from their hands), cottage pie, mince pies (sweet ones), jacket baked potatoes with various toppings, buns and other bakery fare, ploughman's lunch, cucumber and other sandwichs (we invented them and stories are important to Japanese), full English breakfast (if done well with sausage, pouched egg), and "dark tourism"challenge foods such as rice pudding, bread pudding, black pudding, jellied eels, those green peas, kidney and for the really brave, Marmite.

What were those eggs encased in a meaty crust called? Scotch Eggs!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

LOL@ all the Japanese people passing judgement on the UK, yet being utterly clueless about 99% of what it is about. I have literally never heard a single Japanese person mention anything even approaching anything from the following list...

Burial, Aphex Twin, Autechre, the whole rave scene, the modern art scene, Shoreditch, the London Grime scene, massive multi-culturalism leading to entirely new afro-futuristic art forms, Chris Morris, dodgy back street Pubs, the Premiereship, hammering it around the home counties in a Jaguar then firing back to your massive 7 bedroom Bedfordshire house for an all night summer open house garden party, the punk scene, Shane Meadows, drum and bass, fusion foods, etc etc etc.

And they never will, because for them, it is all about pre-packaged activities and pre-packaged opinions.

To be honest, I don't care one bit that the Japanese don't have a clue about where I am from. Means we get to keep it for ourselves.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

I think British food is best enjoyed in the home of a British family.

Some Japanese occasionally say to me "British food is terrible," to which I respond, "Are you including my mum's cooking?" which tends to make them look rather embarrassed at their obvious rudeness.

But I do agree. British food in restaurants is not good. Our service culture is incredibly poor and low level.

However, British food cooked well in the home is absolutely yummy.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I hope I am wrong with my understanding of British food culture.

You are wrong.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Britain has plenty of beautiful gardens. The weather is not friendly. However it has celebrity chefs like Jammie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal. These two chefs are representing innovative contemporary British food culture. Many Japanese do not know Ice Cream was invented by Charles I of English. As the Ice Cream lover, I was deeply offended he was beheaded in the history.

For tourism marketing, Britain needs to prepare well presentation of food photo with background of beautiful garden. the lawn should be green as Oxford university lawn. If they can add native British fish, it will be more attractive for potential tourists from Japan.

Many Japanese have perception about British food. It is because of former French President Jacques Chirac Joke. He is responsible for making many Japanese think all English food are tasteless.


0 ( +0 / -0 )

When I asked my Japanese friends, how do you portray England or English people? There replay was “dirty with lots of history and drunken thugs”, and I can see why, there are lots of building covered in spray can graffiti, Hotels are expensive, tourist sites are so over priced it’s a total rip off, and just look at our towns and cities on a Friday and Saturday night!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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