Chinese Noodles, Issey Miyake, and Hokkaido - The Reasons Why 70% More Thais are Visiting Japan

According to the Nikkei Marketing Journal dated 10 May 2013, Japan saw a 70.1% increase over the previous year of Thai tourists in the month of March. They are making up for the decline in Chinese tourists due to the Senkaku Island dispute and other elements increasing their anti-Japanese sentiment.

The Kamakura-Yokohama-Tokyo Tour
A journalist joined a tour from Thailand with 10 participants who were in a wide range of occupations from agriculture to banking.

The tour first took them to Kamakura, where the strongly religious Thais visited the famous sitting Buddha.
"Thai Buddhas are made of gold and shiny, but Japanese Buddhas are more toned-down. Their austerity makes me feel more serene as I visit them, " one participant said.

Next, they went to the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum, which has seen a 57% increase over the previous year of Thai visitors. This restaurant complex is set in a retro, mid-1950s interior and just about every tour from Thailand includes this spot. (A quick look at the official site shows Thail as a language option to navigate the site as well as both simplified and traditional Chinese and Korean.)

Staff at the Ramen Musem claims that the majority of Thai visitors prefer the "tonkotsu" or soup made of pig bone marrow noodles, which is a specialty of the Kyushu region.

The highlight of the tour is a visit to the Issey Miyake flagship store in Aoyama, in Tokyo. In particular, the Bao Bao Issey Miyake bags were in high demand because it is renowned that the Queen has one.

"One of the key objectives of joining this tour this time was to buy one of these bags," says a 37-year old man who got one for his girlfriend. "I am delighted that it was cheaper than I had expected it to be," he added.

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That night, the tour stayed at a hotel in Ikebukuro's Sunshine City. After checking in, the tourists were given free time, which they took full advantage of, by visiting such popular shopping destinations as Tokyu Hands, Matsumoto Kiyoshi, and ABC Mart.

A 46-year old lady who was on the tour with her husband splurged on 30 packs of a Shiseido face cleanser.
"I cannot get this in Thailand," she said. "I did my research online before this trip so I am so happy I could get this."

The tour guide for the group commented that most of the tour participants stay out until the shops close to shop.

Businesses who receive these Thail tourists have commented as follows:

1) LAOX (Electric appliance store chain): Thail tourists like Japanese watches like those by SEIKO and available duty free. Prices vary from around 10,000 yen to 300,000 yen, and most buy for themselves, not as gifts.

2) JTB (Travel Agent): Unlike Chinese visitors who chose to visit Japan as their first overseas destination, Thai tourists are experienced travelers who have visited neighboring countries before, so they are not as interested in shopping as the Chinese. Instead, they are very interested in the changing seasons of Japan and like to visit locations where they can enjoy cherry blossoms and Japanese maple in their best seasons. In terms of souvenirs, they like sweets like "Tokyo Banana" that are only available in certain places.

3) Takashimaya Shinjuku Store (Department Store): In addition to the European brands, Thai customers like Issey Miyake's Bao Bao. Because it is widely known that the Queen has one, they sell very well. Average purchasing value by Chinese customers is around 100,000 yen and visitors from Southeast Asia, including Thai customers, is around 95,000 yen.

4) Seibu Ikebukuro Main Store (Department Store): There was a 40% gain over the previous year for duty-free sales from 1 through 14 March this year. A significant contributor to that growth is Thai customers. The core spending value is between 600,000 yen and 800,000 yen in Hermes goods. Thai customers do not speak much English, but they are very polite and a pleasure to serve.

Highly Coveted Destination - Hokkaido 
Hiroshi Masuda, the head of the Japan National Tourism Organization, in Bangkok is quoted as saying that "Japan as a destination is becoming increasingly popular with Thai travelers, and in particular, Hokkaido." The organization has a customer inquiry desk for people who want to travel alone to Japan, and the desk receives inquiries about Hokkaido almost daily.

The boom started in 2009, when a popular model was photographed at various locations in Hokkaido in summer with lots of flowers. Ever since then, "Hokkaido has become an aspirational destination for the flower-loving Thais," says Masuda.

This was further boosted when a direct flight between Bangkok and Chitose Airport of Hokkaido commenced operation in October 2012. Thai Airlines, who operates the flight, had initially expected 50% of travelers to be Japanese, 40% Thai, and 10% from neighboring countries, but thanks to the weakening yen, 60% of the travelers are Thai since January this year.

CEO of Bangkok based Asahi Travel Service who offers tours to Japan, Jiro Mimoto, says, "from May onwards, trips to Hokkaido are so popular, it is becoming difficult to secure seats on direct fligthts, " with surprise.

"A frozen lake? I have never seen such a thing in my life."
In Kushiro city, Hokkaido, a couple visiting snow covered Lake Akan said, "We could never experience this in Thailand. Families and young people would love this!"

They are actually journalists invited by the local tourism association. As the decline in Chinese visitors became obvious, the association targeted Thailand.

The journalists visited the newly build Snow Park next to the ski resort situated alongside Lake Akan.

"The Thais love snow! It is not so cold in April and yet, we can still play in the snow. I think if advertised right, this could become more popular than the Snow Festival (in February)."

Reference: Nikkei Marketing Journal cover story for 10 May 2013