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BCCJ Spotlight – Nao Fukawa, Tourism Shizuoka Japan
Article by Glenys Morton
Tourism Shizuoka Japan (TSJ) is the official destination marketing office for Shizuoka Prefecture based in Shizuoka City. TSJ is focused on introducing the world to the beauty and majesty of Shizuoka Prefecture. The goal is to capture the essence of Shizuoka and introduce foreign visitors to authentic and unique experiences in the area.
Last month, I sat down with Naohiro Fukawa of Tourism Shizuoka Japan to learn more about him and how his team are navigating the tourism industry during the pandemic.
Nao is a tourism and marketing professional who currently leads a small team in Shizuoka who have made a significant impact boosting tourism in the regional area. Because of his industry expertise, Nao is contracted with Tourism Shizuoka Japan, a government funded destination marketing office. There, Nao organises the tourism destination marketing, training of team members, and creation of industry partnerships.
According to Nao, “TSJ was created to make Shizuoka a better place for both locals and visitors to have authentic Japanese experiences.” He explained to me that they achieve this goal “by working with international media journalists, tour operators, and travel consultants in their overseas target market to nurture awareness of Shizuoka as a travel destination. This creates an environment where people can easily think of Shizuoka when planning their next trip.” TSJ also works with travel partners to create authentic, experience-orientated itineraries for first-time visitors to Japan.
Not only does TSJ work with companies abroad, they also work with local communities. “Within Shizuoka, we work with the local tourism offices to create export ready product development and to help them understand the expectations of international customers travelling in their communities. We teach them how to develop tourism itineraries suited to international travelers,” Nao explained. When TSJ is working with travel partners, they can tailor these itineraries to fit the specific needs of the tour operator. Individual travelers can also book these itineraries themselves.
This is TSJ’s strategic approach to build a quality destination and nurture international markets. Although these procedures are the norm for international travel markets around the world, it is not such a common practice in Japan.
When explaining why travel and tourism is important to communities in Shizuoka, Nao said, “The Japanese government set up TSJ to sustain the prefecture of Shizuoka for its citizens by improving the economy through tourism. Travel and tourism in regional communities can allow the citizens to see their own communities and lives through the eyes of international travelers. When foreign visitors come and celebrate the culture and nature of Shizuoka, it can help locals appreciate their homes more as well. This helps them realize the abundances they have in daily life that they may take for granted. And also, it is the best way to promote international understanding in Shizuoka communities, especially for the youth. It may open their eyes to the global world. Tourism broadens horizons, both for tourists and locals.”
Next I spoke with Nao about the effects of Coronavirus and how TSJ is working around those difficulties. The closure of international borders due to Coronavirus has put a stop to all international travel in Japan, seriously affecting tourism numbers across Japan. Because of this, there is the misconception that because no one is traveling right now and TSJ and other tourism agencies have nothing to do at the moment. However, this could not be further from the truth. TSJ has continued to work throughout the pandemic, currently focusing on long term plans to revitalize communities in Shizuoka as soon as travel bans are lifted.
TSJ is currently focusing on creating travel demand abroad, and despite the inbound tourism ban, Nao expects to see interest grow and a pay off when borders reopen. The organization has adapted their current marketing strategy to the current situation, turning their attention to domestic markets who are highly motivated to pursue travel. For example, TSJ has created a travel package for Japanese people in the greater Tokyo area who would like to travel with their dogs, and is also exploring travel packages with new priority on health and safety.
As the pandemic continues, TSJ was used as a successful case study on how tourism advertising firms can deal with such a situation. Due to their resilient digital marketing efforts, they were positively recognized by a variety of Japanese media. According to Nao, “Being unique was always necessary for success, but now tourism offices also have to be unique by offering open-air, outdoors or health-conscious travel options.”
Lastly, we discussed the goals and future of TSJ. According to him, in the long term “TSJ’s ultimate goal is to build a state to sustain happiness for both locals and travelers in Shizuoka, by creating positive impacts to be shared via common values.” To achieve these goals, “TSJ works with local industries to spread awareness and understanding of how to cater to the different demands in the overseas travel market, looking at Shizuoka as a destination.” To realize this goal, Nao first built a dynamic and capable team, and then created partnerships with local industries and organizations. Next they created a variety of educational training courses in the regional area to increase marketing and product development capabilities and understanding. Because TSJ’s small team could not be present in every community all the time, they worked with each region to create local leaders. Due to COVID-19, TSJ has been focusing on in-house intensive training in subjects such as psychology, international marketing and Japanese tourism.
It is undoubtedly true that TSJ has surpassed initial goals since its creation in 2017. TSJ supports 33 cities and villages in Shizuoka. Nao told me that “we have created more demand in the market and connected that demand to individual cities and towns in Shizuoka. TSJ is a successful model for other state level tourism agencies.” This point is magnified when one examines TSJ’s annual budget of 99 million yen (715,000GBP). TSJ has a very high cost performance and a plethora of positive contributions to the regional communities and economies of Shizuoka. They are certainly a positive model for authentic tourism agencies within Japan and abroad.