Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Difference Between Buzz and Sustainable Growth Strategies

You may have see a headline that looked like this recently:

10,000 Free Round-Trip Tickets to Japan

Articles go on to say that the Japan Tourist Bureau is planning to (possibly) give away tickets to (possibly) influencers and mega-bloggers to come to Japan, and (possibly) write about their experiences there.

This is a fine short-term strategy, but it's not what JTB should do.

Here's what's wrong with this plan:

1) JTB is (planning on) giving free tickets to people who are already highly likely to travel.

2) It's a short-term boost that might create a minor bump in tourism, but has no sustainability.


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I love Japan. I love visiting it as often as possible and I write about my experience there for people to enjoy. There's a pretty good chance that I'd get one of those free tickets. But that's relatively pointless, because I go there anyway.  The people who are pro or semi-pro travel writers, or have compelling Japanese business interests, are not avoiding Japan because of a high yen or fears of radiation. And, people who are worried about radiation are unlikely to go to Japan just because a travel writer says it's safe.

I might motivate one or two people a year to really get over there - I did motivate a whole crowd to come in 2005 for an event I ran in Tokyo. And, if those people liked it, then they might go back. If 10,000 people motivate one or two people to go, it's a nice little blip on the tourism radar.

But.

This is not sustainable. This is buzz.

JTB can't afford to give away 10,000 free round-trip tickets every year and not all of the people who get those tickets will go again, bring a friend, or instill desire in readers to visit Japan.

For a short-term campaign, they'd be better off giving free tickets to people who have never been there, have a compelling reason to visit and who are likely to bring spouses and children with them.

There's still no sustainability, but then their campaign would also express some goodwill and get people who might not otherwise visit Japan over there.The problem is...

Buzz is not a Growth Strategy

To create a sustainable way to increase tourism, JTB ought first to look at cost. Airfare to get to Japan from my part of the country is ridiculous and is heading higher in the next few months. This presents a tremendous hurdle for anyone who might want to go there, especially if they have a family. A trip to Japan now costs what you might pay for a used car, or a year's tuition for a community college. This seems like the most obvious pain point in the world to me.

JTB - you want more people to come to Japan? Make it cheaper to get there.

13 hours in the air is a long time, but it takes me that to get to just about anywhere outside North America. The cost is the problem, not the time. Work with airlines to bring airfare to something a normal human with a spouse and kids can handle.

There was a time when airlines sold cheap overseas travel fares. I remember a coworker going to Japan for 3 nights, 4 days with hotel for $400 as an airline special. If I could get that deal, I'd go there every month for a long weekend and to pick up manga and magazines. I'd eat out, too. And not just ramen on the street.

Work with airlines to bring back airfares that don't take being a millionaire to afford. I have no doubt that tourism rates will rise right back up.
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