Top 5 Trends for Web & Travel in Japan

Is Japan a hot destination for travel? The answer is an easy "yes"! The Odigo team went to the Web in Travel (WiT) Japan & North Asia 2016 conference to get the scoop on the latest travel trends.
Photo and Image Text by Lauren Shannon
The event was a packed day of industry panel discussions and new product demonstrations. Everyone was focused on two key questions: "What do tech savvy travelers want most?" and "How can web companies adapt to make that possible?" Below are our major takeaways as we head into the Summer travel season in Japan.

1. Travel Is Big and Regional Travel Bigger

 Travel Statistics from the JNTO -- WikiCommons Media
According to a JNTO report, 84% of Japan's visitors in 2015 were from Asia. Of the 19.73 million visitors to Japan, 16.64 million came from China and South Korea. Some visitors may have noticed Chinese and Korean signs, pamphlets and announcements in major cities. Travelers are also increasingly opting to travel alone rather than on package tours. In addition, many Chinese visit for short-haul holidays. Ronnie Gurion, Managing Director of International Business Development at Airbnb, also presented evidence of increasingly independent travel. On the Airbnb platform, Japan's greatest outbound market is to China and the company's greatest inbound market is to Japan. Tujia, China's answer to Airbnb valued at over US$1 billion, recently set up an office in Japan to cater to their Chinese customer base.
China and Japan have two things in common. Both countries are two of the world's largest economies and notoriously difficult to crack. As a result, homegrown companies catering to local tastes are flourishing. This means that adventurous travelers looking for local gems can download in-country apps ahead of time to get more out of their trip. For visitors in Japan, try the app Tabelog to check out where to eat.

2. Tech Will Only Improve Travel

 VR from the Mobile World Congress 2016 -- Photo cc by Janitors
WiT Japan North Asia also featured demonstrations of the latest travel technology. Circos VR Studio created a simulated experience for a city that was later destroyed in an earthquake. IBM has built Watson, a robot that can help people navigate Japan, do shopping, plan trips, and even send follow-up information. For travelers soon coming to Japan, Odigo's trip planner can help you create a personalized itinerary. Also consider trying Mebuku's Pokke audio guide app for the country's must-see places.

3. The Hidden Gem Scavenger Hunt Has Begun

Travelers are Looking for Hidden Gems -- Photo of the Open Air Museum in Kawasaki by Nathan Hosken
With pocket Wi-Fi and mobile data plans, travelers to Japan are becoming increasingly adventurous. TripAdvisor showed where people were going by comparing its March 2015 and March 2016 travel search data. Searches surged for prefectures beyond Tokyo and Kansai, the two most popular destinations. The biggest increases are in Ishikawa, Ibaraki, Toyama, Tottori, and Shimane prefectures. As of last year, you can travel directly to the prefectures Ishikawa and Toyama from Tokyo by Shinkansen, the bullet train. Visitors can now also use the Hokuriku Arch Pass to reach Kyoto via a scenic route that passes Kanazawa City in Ishikawa Prefecture.

4. Family Businesses Are the Heart of Japan

 Family Inns and Shops Are High on Traveler's Desired Destinations Lists -- Photo by Nathan Hosken
Ryokans, Japanese inns, are integral to national heritage. They preserve the traditions of the country in not only the historical buildings but also through offering impeccable service. Yoshiharu Hoshino, President of Hoshino Resort Group, shared how he helped expand his family business. In the process, he helped turn his hometown of Karuizawa into a travel destination for skiers and onsen connoisseurs alike. However, he and panelist Ippei Ichijo, 20th Generation Ryokan President of Yunushi Ichijo said the majority of their customers were still domestic. This is because Japanese locals appreciate how they preserve traditional customs and service standards. Family businesses in off-the-beaten-path locations still require support to attract customers. In addition to ryokans, many of Japan's restaurants, craft workshops and sweets shops are still run by family members. Be sure to visit a few while you are here!

5. Guest Experience Is King

 Travelers Want Great Customer Service and Trouble-free Systems -- Touch & Go by Japan Airlines
Travel is about having a great experience. Some of the companies at WiT 2016 went above and beyond demonstrating what consumers do to share how they evolved to serve them better. Japan Airlines (JAL) showed how their e-commerce platform evolved into a comprehensive customer experience. JAL's foray into the web began in 1995 as a website and they have had online bookings since 1996. Now, over 50% of their domestic bookings are made online. In addition, they offer a "Touch & Go Service" that allows customers to go through security just 15 minutes before boarding. Many business-to-business (B2B) companies that indirectly help to improve travelers' experiences also abound. For example, TrustYou provides hotels with consolidated information on their popularity, reviews, and customer feedback in order to improve their service. Ultimately, that trickles down to a better trip experience for future guests.
The future of travel in Japan is looking bright. Both established and up-and-coming companies at WiT 2016 shared keen insight into changing trends.  The Odigo team is happy to share these latest travel industry discussions that show a commitment to quality and innovative customer service.

Excited? Discover and plan your unforgettable trip to Japan!

Athena Lam