Market niche urged •Airline executive offers tips to win Japanese travelers amid tough times

Posted on Mar 25 1999

With the cutthroat competition in the travel industry, the CNMI government must intensify efforts to establish an image of Saipan that will make it unique from other destinations in the Pacific, according to a Japan Airlines official.

Tom Shigemitsu, director of JAL’s international passenger marketing and sales department, said the Northern Marianas would need to promote its restaurants and shopping centers since these are important considerations for Japanese in choosing their holiday destinations.

Shigemitsu commended the Marianas Visitors Authority for using the mascot “Saipanda” a new character resembling a panda bear with a rhinoceros horn nose, which he believes is effective.

The name is a triple play on words that ties in the name of the island of Saipan, the panda, the rhinoceros (“sai in Japanese) and also the phrase, “It’s Saipan,” or Let’s go to Saipan,” in Japanese.

“Trying to win back the Japanese market will not be an easy task for yourselves, or any other country that you are competing against. Results cannot be achieved through the efforts of one party one alone. Only through concerted efforts of the airlines, travel agencies and tourism bureaus can any success be expected,” said Shigemitsu.

In Europe, aggressive promotions including various cultural events were held in United Kingdom and France as 1998 was declared by respective countries as their year in a move to lure more tourists.

Neighboring island Guam has its own” Guam Romance Campaign” and the Hawaii State Tourist Organization has tapped former Japanese Sumo wrestler Konishiki to help in promotion. Hawaii has also reduced its landing fees for airlines to entice more carrier to bring in more tourist to the island.

In Korea, the president has appeared in various promotional films requesting the Korean people to show their warmth in welcoming foreign visitors. Korea has spent approximately 530 million yen in television commercial that is being aired in the major cities in China, Japan, United States and Europe.

CNMI officials should also consider reducing the land leases as the cost in nearby destinations have also dropped. Since JAL has made a huge reduction on its airfare, Shigemitsu said the airline, which has a huge investment on the island would appreciate a lower land costs, at least until the tourism demand recovers.

JAL had invested more than $150 million in the Northern Marianas owning La Fiesta San Roque Shopping Plaza, Tropical Laundry & Linen Corp. and Hotel Nikko Saipan.

In 1998, the Japanese Overseas Travelers reported that destinations such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Egypt and the CNMI experienced a double digit negative growth for Japanese travelers.

Shigemitsu said the greatest concern in the Japanese travel industry is that younger travelers, particularly the working women, are not traveling as often as they did.

Although they still have enough money and the desire to travel, the young women are already concerned with the future, particularly job security amid the recession besetting the world’s second biggest economy.

Some experts are saying that the shift in the travel pattern among Japanese has nothing to do with economic problems, but a change in their view on their reasons for going abroad.

Japanese who are in their 40s which comprise active wage-earners who are mostly corporate managers, are also scaling down on their travel abroad due to their concern on financial security, thus, making them more conservative on their overseas spending.

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