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Can Fukuoka Become a Truly International City?

By Mr. Muneo Wakabayashi

 

(Originally written in Japanese for Kyushu Marketing Eyes 2018 vol.85, Japan Marketing Association, Kyushu Branch)

· Inbound Tourism

Mr. Muneo Wakabayashi is CEO of Wakabayashi Business Support and holds the distinction of being the first TV Tokyo New York Bureau Chief and Correspondent. He was the first news anchor on TV Tokyo's nightly business news program, "World Business Satellite." Mr. Wakabayashi has also been a Visiting Professor at Kyushu University’s Intellectual Property Headquarters. He established Wakabayashi Business Support in Fukuoka in 2012. Mr. Wakabayashi acts as adviser and facilitator for many organizations and is currently the Kyushu Tourism Media Center Representative of the Kyushu Tourism Promotion Board.

Fukuoka: Are you ready to accept foreigners?

Challenges with airports and hotels

There is now an unprecedented opportunity for Japan's tourism industry to expand as the government has launched policies aimed at turning this country into a tourism destination and the number of inbound visitors is greatly increasing.

It has been said that business is not very active in Japan in February and August, however, the Chinese arrive in February on their New Year Holidays and the French summer vacation is traditionally the entire month of August. In Australia, for example, in the southern hemisphere the seasons are reversed. Therefore it is expected that Japan’s inbound-tourism will become year-round.

"Why do we write and send pictures via social media?

...in reality it is an expression of mild superiority that we take pride in sharing."

I have traveled to many countries around the world for both business and pleasure since my time at TV Tokyo. From that experience, I learned that "people involved in the tourism industry should travel themselves.” How can anyone understand what customer satisfaction means unless they become customers themselves? It is essential to experience things oneself.

People used to send picture postcards from their travel destinations. Now this has changed

to SNS. Why do we write and send pictures? It is said that it is "to share the joy of traveling"

etc., but in reality it is an expression of mild superiority that we take pride in sharing:

"I experienced this in such and such a place.”

The word "once in a lifetime experience" is often used in advertisements for traveling in the USA. "A one and only life experience.” The question is how to draw out these "once in a lifetime experiences," enhance them, and increase satisfaction for our inbound visitors.

The question is how to draw out these "once in a lifetime experiences," enhance them, and increase satisfaction for all our inbound visitors.​

Eliminating problems of language and money exchange via the smartphone.

It is said that 'language' and 'money = money exchange' will be bottlenecks in accepting inbound visitors. However, IT has already solved these problems.

In Okinawa, where the number of tourists from China and Taiwan is also increasing, I asked a taxi driver "Do you understand Chinese?" He answered, "No, I do not, but there is no problem." Why?

Passengers indicate where they want to go by showing "Google Maps" on their smartphone.

Drivers give the signal "OK" with the V-sign, drive the car, and point to the meter when they reach the destination. They do not have to utter a word.

A taxi driver in Tokyo says, "Foreign travelers who have been refused a ride two or three times are his target customer.” Why? Because "people who have been refused rides before will pay larger tips."

You should make great use of smartphones and the net.

Even if you are not proficient at English, you really do not have any problem if you use a smartphone. It is already happening in the field. I would like people in the tourism industry to know about this. As for dealing with currency exchanges, vendors only need to be able to accept credit card payments. By using your smartphone to scan a QR code, you can settle payments. Further, the accuracy of net translation software has increased. You should make great use of smartphones and the net.

Some “beliefs” held by people from Fukuoka

Fukuoka airport has nearly reached its maximum capacity, and even if the second runway is completed, the capacity problem will not be solved.

In addition, the occupancy rate of hotels and inns in Fukuoka City already exceeds 90%, which is good, but it only allows for future growth of less than 10%.

How to deal with airport and accommodation problems? It is a big challenge to accept more inbound visitors. It is due to "beliefs" held by people from Fukuoka. Because I am a stranger, I have a different view from insiders.

It is a big challenge to accept more inbound visitors. It is due to "beliefs" held by people from Fukuoka. Because I am a stranger, I have a different view from insiders.

"Fukuoka Airport is so convenient."

It is certain that the local airport is very convenient now for residents of Fukuoka, but how about from the viewpoint of "increasing inbound tourism?" It is impossible to increase the number of direct flights from overseas to Fukuoka Airport, given its limited capacity. There simply is not enough room for expansion.

It can never become a convenient airport for a growing number of overseas visitors.

"Fukuoka is the gateway to Asia."

Korea represents over 40% of all foreigners entering Kyushu directly, "It can be said that Kyushu is a gateway for Koreans. However, Fukuoka is the point of entry for only 6.8% of all visitors coming from China excluding cruise ships. If we include cruise ships, the number exceeds 30%, but cruise customers get their accommodations and meals onboard. Can you really call Fukuoka a "gateway to Asia" without taking into consideration China, this remarkably growing and huge Asian country?

Another fallacy is that "Kitakyushu Airport is too far from Fukuoka.”

Why do we not make adequate use of this maritime airport​?

It is just 90 minutes away.

I wonder why we do not make adequate use of this maritime airport which can handle departures and arrivals 24 hours a day? It is just 90 minutes by bus from Tenjin to Kitakyushu Airport. If you check-in and leave your baggage at the Bus Terminal in Tenjin to take a flight departing from Kitakyushu Airport, the bus becomes your waiting room while you are moving. Elsewhere, you are required to arrive at the airport check-in counter two and a half hours before departure, so it should be greatly appreciated by travelers to realize that their bus travel time to Kitakyushu Airport is incorporated into this two and a half hours.

Currently, direct flights from Fukuoka to Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan are not offered. It would be nice to consider using the Kitakyushu Airport to accept direct flights from these countries. We should accept Asian growth in Kyushu. Between Haneda and Narita it takes 70 to 90 minutes by limousine bus and 100 to 150 minutes by train. When comparing airports and cities around the world, both Kitakyushu Airport and Fukuoka City are far from actually being far away. "Fukuoka airport is convenient and Kitakyushu airport is far" is considered common sense only in Fukuoka, it is not so in light of everywhere else.

"There are no big five-star hotels in Fukuoka."

It would be enough to attract a few small five-star hotels on several floors of buildings in downtown Fukuoka.​

"Five-star hotels" are not necessarily "large-scale hotels." The Four Seasons in Tokyo occupies the fourth to seventh floor of an 18-story business building, and has only 57 rooms. The Mandarin Oriental occupies the 30th to 36th floor of the Mitsui Nihonbashi Tower. Aman Tokyo is also just the 33rd to 38th floor, only 84 rooms within the Otemachi Tower. It would be enough to attract a few small five-star hotels on several floors of buildings in downtown Fukuoka, where the redevelopment project called “Tenjin Big Bang” is underway. A new building scheduled to be built on the premises of an elementary school that has discontinued operations is planning to host The Ritz-Carlton on its upper floors and office space for companies on its lower floors. I am looking forward to the next five-star hotel.

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