Priorities for the Japanese Economy in 2015 (January 2015)

Improving Customer Satisfaction to Enhance the Experience of Foreign Tourists

Senior Fellow, RIETI

Expanding inbound tourism: Revitalizing the local economy with the Olympics and Paralympics as a tailwind

The number of foreign tourists visiting Japan exceeded 10 million people for the first time in 2013 and topped 13 million people in 2014. The growth in the number of international tourists in the world has remained firm since the middle of the 2000s, increasing at a higher pace than the real gross domestic product (GDP) of the world, and reached approximately 1.1 billion people globally in 2013. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) expects that the number of international tourists in the world will be 1.4 billion people in 2020 and 1.8 billion people in 2030 (Japan Tourism Agency (2014a) and the UNWTO (2014)).

Given that the Japanese government has set the target for the number of inbound tourists at 20 million people and 30 million people in 2020 and 2030, respectively, Japan needs to increase its number of foreign tourists at a much faster pace than the total growth of international tourists in the world. However, in the travel and tourism competitiveness ranking of the World Economic Forum (WEF) (covering 140 countries, hereinafter the "WEF Competitiveness Ranking") (Note 1), Japan is not ranked very highly, only in 55th place for "Government Prioritization of Travel and Tourism." Taking advantage of the tailwind that is the holding of the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020, the government and private sectors in Japan need to make more active efforts in transforming Japan into a tourism-oriented country.

Looking at the number of foreign tourists visiting countries that have held the Olympics and Paralympics in the past, there tends to be a greater increase following the decision to hold the events. In the United Kingdom, where the Olympics and Paralympics were held in 2012, consumption by foreign tourists in provincial regions after the events increased at a higher pace than in London (Japan Tourism Agency (2014a)). An opportunity to revitalize the local economy with tourism has also arrived in Japan.

Analyzing the voices of foreigners and using them for tourism services: Providing true omotenashi

To increase the number of inbound tourists, the easing of visa requirements and the concerted efforts of the government and the private sectors to promote visits to Japan are important. However, the most important thing is to find and analyze foreigners' needs and provide high-quality services at places that are attractive to foreigners.

The Consumption Trend Survey for Foreigners Visiting Japan of the Japan Tourism Agency provides a detailed analysis by country and shows that foreigners visiting Japan are most interested in eating Japanese food and are most satisfied with their experience of the lifestyle, history, and traditional culture of Japan. As for things they want to do if they revisit Japan, the percentage of foreign tourists who answered "go to a hot spring" is the same as that of "eat Japanese food" (Note 2).

Various media also serve as a useful reference. CNN cites the world's most advanced railway, the Emperor, department stores' basement food floors, the scramble crossing in Shibuya, and the Harajuku area, etc. in order as the 50 reasons why Tokyo is the most attractive city in the world (Note 3). Recently, I participated in an emergency drill using an earthquake simulation device at the Ikebukuro Life Safety Learning Center of the Tokyo Fire Department, and, aside from myself, all of the participants were tourists from Hong Kong and Finland. A person at the Center said that usually one-third of the participants are foreigners.

As these facts suggest, foreigners appear to have considerable interests and needs in areas that we do not readily notice. For tourism industry participants, it is important to have an attitude for sharing information with other industry participants about foreigners, such as tourist needs and complaints that they have received, instead of treating it as ad hoc information. Additionally, it is necessary to have an attitude to use the information for future services by analyzing the level of satisfaction, etc. of foreigners visiting Japan with a questionnaire survey. Media often discuss the Fuman Kaitori Center (complaints purchase center), which purchases complaints at 10 yen each and sells them to companies. RIETI also strives to improve its operations by conducting questionnaire surveys (Note 4). As these examples show, it is important for inbound tourism to find economic value in the voices of customers and to use them actively. I think that the use of big data is also an effective way.

Although Japan's omotenashi (hospitality) is generally rated high, there appear to be many areas to improve, given that Japan is ranked low at 74th in the "attitude of the population toward foreign visitors" of the WEF Competitiveness Ranking and among the lowest at 125th in the "extension of business trips recommended for leisure purposes." In Paris, the tourist association and the chamber of commerce and industry explain how to treat tourists from different countries with a website called "Do You Speak Touriste?" (Note 5). Measures to promote international tourism, such as downtown tourist guides in which tourism volunteers speak to foreign tourists in areas around major railway stations, introduced in the "Long-Term Vision for Tokyo" announced at the end of 2014 have received attention. However, many municipalities face challenges such as a lack of preparation, finances, and human resources to accept foreigners, despite their intention to focus on the promotion of international tourism (Japan Travel Bureau Foundation, etc. (2014)). It is necessary to develop systems taking advantage of the strength of the private sector.

Experiencing the customer's position is effective

To provide high quality services, it is also effective for the managers and employees of service providers to put themselves in the shoes of the customers who receive their services to discover and understand the needs of which they would otherwise not be aware, in addition to conducting surveys on customer satisfaction through questionnaire surveys, etc. Philip Kotler, a professor at Northwestern University, says that the internal marketing that a business manager instills as the business' service culture in its employees is important (Kotler et al., 2003). We might say that employees' experiencing the customer's position has a "custaff (customer + staff) effect," so to speak, which makes mutual interactions with the manager to improve service quality more useful.

The Labour Policy Council began examining measures to promote the acquisition of paid leave in autumn 2014, as the acquisition rate still remains low at less than 50%. If there are more opportunities for the tourism industry participants to experience the customer's position using their paid leave, it is likely to make a significant contribution to improvement in the quality of the inbound tourism.

January 7, 2015
  1. ^ The WEF Competitiveness Ranking has been announced since 2007, and the latest is the 2013 version. There are 79 items evaluated, and Japan's total ranking is 14th.
  2. ^ In the 2013 annual report, to the question of what they did while they were in Japan, foreign tourists who answered "eat Japanese food" (96.6%) and "go shopping" (77.2%) were the largest in number. Meanwhile, looking at their satisfaction with what they did, those who answered "experience the lifestyle of Japan" (70.0%) and "experience the history and traditional culture of Japan" (67.9%) were the largest. In terms of what they want to do if they visit Japan again, those who answered "eat Japanese food" (47.0%) and "go to a hot spring" (47.0%) were the largest in number.
  3. ^
  4. ^ RIETI conducts a questionnaire survey with the participants at each symposium or public seminar that it holds, having participants write about their level of satisfaction, etc. RIETI also conducts an online questionnaire survey every spring about the evaluation of its overall activities (RIETI selects respondents to receive books by lottery). RIETI reports the aggregate results to the Evaluation Committee for Incorporated Administrative Agency and publishes it. (in Japanese)
  5. ^

January 23, 2015

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