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